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Litter pool sizes, decomposition, and nitrogen dynamics in Spartina alterniflora-invaded and native coastal marshlands of the Yangtze Estuary

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Past studies have focused primarily on the effects of invasive plants on litter decomposition at soil surfaces. In natural ecosystems, however, considerable amounts of litter may be at aerial and belowground positions. This study was designed to examine the effects of Spartina alterniflora invasion on the pool sizes and decomposition of aerial, surficial, and belowground litter in coastal marshlands, the Yangtze Estuary, which were originally occupied by two native species, Scirpus mariqueter and Phragmites australis. We collected aerial and surficial litter of the three species once a month and belowground litter once every 2 months. We used the litterbag method to quantify litter decomposition at the aerial, surficial and belowground positions for the three species. Yearly averaged litter mass in the Spartina stands was 1.99 kg m−2; this was 250 and 22.8% higher than that in the Scirpus (0.57 kg m−2) and Phragmites (1.62 kg m−2) stands, respectively. The litter in the Spartina stands was primarily distributed in the air (45%) and belowground (48%), while Scirpus and Phragmites litter was mainly allocated to belowground positions (85 and 59%, respectively). The averaged decomposition rates of aerial, surficial, and belowground litter were 0.82, 1.83, and 1.27 year−1 for Spartina, respectively; these were 52, 62 and 69% of those for Scirpus litter at corresponding positions and 158, 144 and 78% of those for Phragmites litter, respectively. The differences in decomposition rates between Spartina and the two native species were largely due to differences in litter quality among the three species, particularly for the belowground litter. The absolute amount of nitrogen increased during the decomposition of Spartina stem, sheath and root litter, while the amount of nitrogen in Scirpus and Phragmites litter declined during decomposition for all tissue types. Our results suggest that Spartina invasion altered the carbon and nitrogen cycling in the coastal marshlands of China.

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We are very grateful to Naishun Bu, Xin Xu, and Jing Zhu for their assistance in the fieldwork, and Drs. R. K. Monson and A. T. Austin and three anonymous referees for constructive comments. This work was supported by Foundation of Changjiang Scholar Program to Yiqi Luo, National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No.: 2006CB403305), Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos.: 30670330 and 30370235), and Ministry of Education of China (Grant No.: 105063) to Bo Li, and Innovative Foundation of graduate students of Fudan University (Grant No.: CQH1322022) to Chengzhang Liao.

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Correspondence to Yi Qi Luo or Bo Li.

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Communicated by Amy Austin.

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Liao, C.Z., Luo, Y.Q., Fang, C.M. et al. Litter pool sizes, decomposition, and nitrogen dynamics in Spartina alterniflora-invaded and native coastal marshlands of the Yangtze Estuary. Oecologia 156, 589–600 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-008-1007-0

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  • Aerial decomposition of litter
  • Coastal marsh
  • Litter allocation
  • Litter nitrogen dynamics
  • Plant invasion
  • Spartina alterniflora
  • Yangtze Estuary