Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 525–538 | Cite as

Tree species identity alters decomposition of understory litter and associated microbial communities: a case study

  • Šárka AngstEmail author
  • Lenka Harantová
  • Petr Baldrian
  • Gerrit Angst
  • Tomáš Cajthaml
  • Petra Straková
  • Jan Blahut
  • Hana Veselá
  • Jan Frouz
Original Paper


Investigations on how tree species modify decomposition of understory litter have rarely been conducted, although potentially having impacts on soil carbon stocks and stability. The aim of our study was to disentangle the effects different tree species (alder, spruce, oak, and willow) exert on litter decomposition by comparing decomposition patterns and microbial measures (phospholipid fatty acids and microbial DNA) of both tree and understory (Calamagrostis epigejos) litter exposed at the respective tree species stands of a common garden experiment. An initially uniform mass loss of understory litter exposed at the stands suggests that inherent litter quality (assessed by C:N ratios and lignin content) was the major driver in early decomposition. However, in later stages of our experiment, decomposition of understory litter began to differ among the stands, suggesting a delayed tree species effect. Here, differences in microbial community composition caused by tree species identity (e.g., through varying N supply or phenolics leached from low-quality litter) were likely the major determinants affecting the decomposition of understory litter. However, in these advanced decomposition stages, tree species identity only partly altered microbial communities associated with understory litter. These results indicate that the development of microbial communities on understory litter (and its decay) is likely a combined result of inherent chemical composition and tree species identity.


Common garden experiment Litter chemistry PLFA DNA Bacteria Fungi 


Funding information

The study was supported by the European Regional Development Fund-Project “Research of key soil-water ecosystem interactions at the SoWa Research Infrastructure” [EF16_013/0001782 – SoWa Ecosystems Research] and by the Czech Science Foundation [18-24138S]. The study was realized within the SoWa Research Infrastructure funded by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport of the Czech Republic [LM2015075], program “Projects of Large Infrastructure for Research, Development, and Innovations.”

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Suppl. Fig. S1

Sketch of individual study sites in the post-mining area. The area is marked by a dashed line. Shaded parts mark areas covered by woody vegetation. Plots chosen for litter sampling (S, O, W, A, C) and placing of litterbags (S, O, W, A) are marked by red squares: S – spruce, O – oak, W – willow, A – alder, C - Calamagrostis. The sketch is modified from a study of Frouz et al. (2013). (PNG 148 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIF 475 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. S2

Solid-state 13C NMR spectra of initial leaf litter of dominant trees (spruce, oak, alder, willow) and litter after one year of decomposition. (PNG 187 kb)

High Resolution Image (TIF 67745 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. S3

Composition of fungal communities in tree (spruce, oak, willow, alder) and Calamagrostis litter. The data represent means of four replicates and are based on sequence abundances. (PNG 424 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIF 1427 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. S4

Functional groups of fungi in tree and Calamagrostis litter. The data represent means of four replicates and are based on sequence abundances. (PNG 181 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIF 1216 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. S5

Composition of bacterial communities in tree (spruce, oak, willow, alder) and Calamagrostis litter. The data represent means of four replicates and are based on sequence abundances. (PNG 470 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIF 1384 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, v. v. i., SoWa Research Infrastructure & Institute of Soil BiologyČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Ecosystem Biology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  3. 3.Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, v. v. iPragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Institute for Environmental Studies, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePrague 2Czech Republic
  5. 5.Department of Forest Sciences, Peatland Ecology GroupUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  6. 6.Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)HelsinkiFinland
  7. 7.Department of Inorganic Chemistry, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePrague 2Czech Republic

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