Forest gaps retard carbon and nutrient release from twig litter in alpine forest ecosystems

  • Bo TanEmail author
  • Jian Zhang
  • Wanqin Yang
  • Rui Yin
  • Zhenfeng Xu
  • Yang Liu
  • Li Zhang
  • Han Li
  • Chengming You
Original Paper


Changes in soil microclimate driven by forest gaps have accelerated mass loss and carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) release from foliar litter in alpine forests ecosystems. Yet, it is unclear whether the same gap effect occurs in twig litter decomposition. A 4-year decomposition experiment was conducted in an alpine forest to explore the litter mass loss and C, N and P release among four gap treatments, including (1) closed canopy, (2) small gap (< 10 m in diameter), (3) middle gap (10–15 m in diameter) and (4) large gap (15–20 m in diameter). Compared to the closed canopy, thicker snow cover within gaps resulted in higher soil temperatures but lower frequency of the freeze–thaw cycles during winter. Moreover, gaps slowed the decay rate and C, N and P release after 4-year decomposition, and a total 31–62% of mass, 42–91% of C, 21–111% of N and all P were lost across gaps in winter. Statistical analysis indicated that gap-caused changes in soil temperature and freeze–thaw cycle had significant effects on C, N and P release of twig litter. This study highlights the importance of winter decomposition and gap-driven process in alpine forest ecosystems in southwestern China.


Gap size Litter mass loss Winter decomposition Twig litter Nutrient release Alpine forest 



We are very grateful to Dr. Wei He and Dr. Qiqian Wu for their helpful suggestions on the statistical analysis. We also thank the long-term experimental platform—Research Station of Alpine Forest Ecosystems. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31870602, 31700542 31570601 and 31500509). Bo Tan and Chengming You acknowledge the China Scholarship Council for supporting a visiting scholar program grant (201806915014) and Ph.D. program grant (201806910030), respectively.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10342_2019_1229_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2149 kb)


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forestry Ecological Engineering in Upper Reaches of Yangtze River Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Alpine Forest Ecosystem Research Station, Soil and Water Conservation and Desertification Control Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Institute of Ecology and Forestry, College of ForestrySichuan Agricultural UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.School of Life ScienceTaizhou UniversityTaizhouPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of Community EcologyHelmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research-UFZHalle, SaaleGermany

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