Lignin from white-rotted European beech deadwood and soil functions

  • Kenton P. StutzEmail author
  • Klaus Kaiser
  • Janna Wambsganss
  • Fernanda Santos
  • Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
  • Friederike Lang


In forest ecosystems, deadwood can improve carbon storage, nutrient availability, and water holding capacity in soils. Yet the effect of organic matter from deadwood such as lignin on these soil functions and their regulators are unknown. We hypothesized that carbon storage, exchangeable cations, and pore space increase with the quantity of lignin-derived phenolic acids from beech deadwood. We also hypothesize that the most pronounced differences occur in more advanced decay classes, in the forest floor at sites with moder forest floors, and in the Ah horizon at sites with mull forest floors. Cupric oxide-oxidation products were used to determine lignin concentration, composition, and oxidation from paired reference and test samples next to 42 downed European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) deadwood logs in ten stands in Southwest Germany. Compared to reference points, the sum of vanillyl, syringyl and cinnamyl lignin-derived phenols increased next to beech deadwood (within 10–20 cm). The composition and oxidation of lignin-derived phenols also changed near beech deadwood: syringyl/vanillyl ratios increased while cinnamyl/vanillyl and aldehyde/acid ratios for vanillyl decreased. Water-extractable organic carbon (OC) and its aromaticity also increased next to beech deadwood as did total OC and particulate OC separated by density fractionation relative to total and mineral-bound OC. These changes occurred namely in the organic horizons of moder forest floors, and in the Ah horizon underneath mull forest floors. These observations indicated that phenols predominantly entered soil in fluxes of fragmented and dissolved organic matter from beech deadwood. Changes to soil nutrient availability and porosity were linked to increasing lignin-derived phenols from beech deadwood especially in nutrient-poor soils and near heavily decayed deadwood. This is evidence that soils close to beech deadwood, a substrate, are spatially limited pedogenic hot-spots that have increased soil carbon, available nutrients, and pore space depending on the forest floor and parent material.


Fagus sylvatica Coarse woody debris CuO-oxidation 1H NMR Density fractionation Soil organic matter 



Aldehyde/acid ratio for syringyl phenols


Aldehyde/acid ratio for vanillyl phenols


Available water capacity


Cation exchange capacity


Intrinsic air permeability


Linear mixed effects


Principle component analysis


Particulate organic carbon (filtered \(>\,1.5\,\upmu \hbox {m}\))


Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient


Soil organic matter

\(\hbox {SUVA}_{{280}}\)

Specific UV absorbance at 280 nm


Sum of vanillyl (V), syringyl (S), and cinnamyl (C) phenols


Water-extractable organic carbon (filtered \(<\,0.45\,\upmu \hbox {m}\))



We sincerely thank Daniel Dann, Markus Graf-Rosenfellner, Petra Grossmann, Gudrun Nemson-von Koch, Anna Ortmann, Christina Petschke, Camille Puverel, David Rice, Rabea Saad, Helmer Schack-Kirchner, Raphael Schönle, Hannah Simon, Nicole Specht, Jasmin Steininger, Angela Thiemann, Petra Wiedemer, and Niklas Wisskirchen for their assistance. Two anonymous reviewers additionally provided constructive and beneficial comments. We also thank the Forstliche Versuchs- und Forschungsanstalt Baden-Württemberg, the Forschungsanstalt für Waldökologie und Forstwirtschaft, ForstBW, and Landesforsten RLP for providing access to the study sites. This work was supported by a Grant from the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg (Az: 33-7533-10-5/81) to Kenton Stutz and Friederike Lang.

Author contributions

KPS and FL conceived and designed the study; KPS and JW collected field samples and, along with FS, performed the laboratory trials; KPS, KK, and FS analyzed the data; KPS wrote the paper; and all authors developed and revised the paper.

Supplementary material

10533_2019_593_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (93 kb)
Electronic supplementary material 1 (PDF 93 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Forest Sciences, Chair of Soil EcologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Soil Science and Soil ProtectionMartin Luther University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany
  3. 3.Institute of Forest Sciences, Chair of SilvicultureUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  4. 4.School of Natural Sciences, Department of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaMercedUSA

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