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Solar ultraviolet radiation alters alder and birch litter chemistry that in turn affects decomposers and soil respiration


Solar ultraviolet (UV)-A and UV-B radiation were excluded from branches of grey alder (Alnus incana) and white birch (Betula pubescens) trees in a field experiment. Leaf litter collected from these trees was used in microcosm experiments under laboratory conditions. The aim was to evaluate the effects of the different UV treatments on litter chemical quality (phenolic compounds, C, N and lignin) and the subsequent effects of these changes on soil fauna and decomposition processes. We measured the decomposition rate of litter, growth of woodlice (Porcellio scaber), soil microbial respiration and abundance of nematodes and enchytraeid worms. In addition, the chemical quality of woodlice feces was analyzed. The exclusion of both UV-A and UV-B had several effects on litter chemistry. Exclusion of UV-B radiation decreased the C content in litter in both tree species. In alder litter, UV exclusion affected concentration of phenolic groups variably, whereas in birch litter there were no significant differences in phenolic compounds. Moreover, further effects on microbial respiration and chemical quality of woodlice feces were apparent. In both tree species, microbial CO2 evolution was lower in soil with litter produced under exclusion of both UV-A and UV-B radiation when compared to soil with control litter. The N content was higher in the feces of woodlice eating alder litter produced under exclusion of both UV-A and UV-B compared to the control. In addition, there were small changes in the concentration of individual phenolic compounds analyzed from woodlice feces. Our results demonstrate that both UV-A and UV-B alter litter chemistry which in turn affects decomposition processes.

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We thank Sinikka Sorsa for assisting with the HPLC analyses and Leena Siitonen, Nipa Manosuk, Pasi Kemppainen and Kati Sivander for assisting with the field experiment and preparing the leaf samples, and Mustafa Boucelham and Anna Repo for assisting with the decomposition experiments. We thank Sari Vilhunen and Hanna Ruhanen for assisting with the lignin and sugar concentration analyses and Matty Berg for collecting the woodlice population. We thank Emily Knott for checking the English language of the manuscript. This work was supported by the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation (grant no. 2007046 to T. Kotilainen) and more recently also by the Academy of Finland (grant no. 116775 to P. J. Aphalo). The experiments reported here comply with the current laws of Finland.

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Correspondence to Titta Kotilainen.

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Communicated by Stefan Scheu.

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Kotilainen, T., Haimi, J., Tegelberg, R. et al. Solar ultraviolet radiation alters alder and birch litter chemistry that in turn affects decomposers and soil respiration. Oecologia 161, 719–728 (2009).

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  • Alnus incana
  • Betula pubescens
  • Leaf litter decomposition
  • Leaf phenolics
  • Ultraviolet radiation