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Changes in eucalypt litter quality during the first three months of field decomposition in a Congolese plantation

Ngao, Jérôme, Bernhard-Reversat, France, Loumeto, Jean-Joël
Applied soil ecology 2009 v.42 no.3 pp. 191-199
Eucalyptus, forest trees, forest plantations, plant litter, biodegradation, soil fertility, field experimentation, wet season, dry season, phenolic compounds, carbon, nitrogen, fiber content, mineralization, lignin, organic compounds, Republic of the Congo
In fast-growing tree plantations, decomposition of leaf litter is considered as a key process of soil fertility. A three-month field experiment, spanning both rainy and dry seasons, was conducted to determine how changes in litter decomposition affect the main parameters of litter quality--namely, the concentrations of phenolic and non-phenolic carbon (C) compounds, nitrogen (N), and fibres, and the litter C mineralization rate. This study was conducted to test (1) if these changes vary according to the compound and to the season, and if they are greater for soluble compounds, and (2) if after a three-month period of field decomposition, the chemical composition of the remaining litter drives C mineralization, as measured in laboratory conditions, through a greater influence on the concentration of N and lignin. We found that the concentrations of water- and methanol-soluble phenolic compounds and the concentrations of non-phenolic compounds decreased during decomposition in all plots and in each season, while the fibre and N concentrations increased. The relationships among litter decomposition, C mineralization, and litter quality depended on the season, which strongly suggests that different processes are involved in dry and rainy seasons. The C mineralization rates were driven by soluble organic compounds in the initial litter and by soluble phenolic compounds in the decomposed litter.