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Reduction of decomposition rates of scots pine needle litter due to heavy-metal pollution

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Decomposition of unpolluted Scots pine needle litter was studied in two heavy-metal-pollution gradients in Sweden; one near a brass mill and the other around a primary smelter. In the latter area locally collected polluted Scots pine needle litter was also incubated. Decomposition rates were strongly influenced by the metal pollution and a decrease in the rate of mass-loss occurred. In the brass-mill gradient this occurred until about 1 km from the pollution source which corresponded to about 500 µg Cu and 1 000 µg Zn g−1 soil. Data are presented to indicate that lignin decomposition was more sensitive to pollution than decomposition of whole litter and affected further away from the pollution sources. At the smelter sites, the metal-polluted needle litter decomposed more slowly than the unpolluted needle litter, and this difference was enhanced close to the smelter. The results indicate that heavy metals accumulated in needles prior to shedding have a long-term impact on the subsequent decomposition of the litter. Both litter quality and soil factors thus contribute to the reduced litter decomposition rate in metal-polluted forests. A new non-linear model with decreasing decay rate was used in the statistical evaluation. The model can be used to characterize the effects of pollution on decomposition rate.

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Berg, B., Ekbohm, G., Söderström, B. et al. Reduction of decomposition rates of scots pine needle litter due to heavy-metal pollution. Water Air Soil Pollut 59, 165–177 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00283179

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  • Lignin
  • Decomposition Rate
  • Pollution Source
  • Metal Pollution
  • Litter Decomposition