Microsite conditions influence leaf litter decomposition in sugar maple bioclimatic domain of Quebec

  • Nicolas BélangerEmail author
  • Alexandre Collin
  • Jacinthe Ricard-Piché
  • Steven W. Kembel
  • David Rivest


Litter decomposition in forests is affected by tree species composition which produces litters with specific characteristics and alters soil surface conditions and nutrient availability. The impact of such changes in soil microsite conditions on litter decomposition is however poorly elucidated. We studied the decomposition of sugar maple leaves in 22 plots varying from pure hardwoods to mixedwoods to conifer-dominated stands across four sites in the sugar maple bioclimatic domain in Quebec. Mass loss and nutrient release were assessed over a 2-year experiment. Proxies of moisture availability measured under the canopy were more valuable for explaining the variability in leaf litter decomposition rates than soil temperature, litter quality and general site measurements (e.g. air temperature, rainwater). Throughfall amounts and soil volumetric water content (VWC) explained 56% of the variability in mass loss constants. Sugar maple leaf litter under hardwoods also decomposed more rapidly than under conifer-dominated stands. Slower litter decomposition under conifer-dominated stands was again more largely controlled by the lower soil VWC than the more acidic forest floor created by the needles. This study highlights that proxies of moisture availability measured at the microsite level can be key variables to predict litter dynamics in forests.


Leaf litter decomposition Mass loss Nutrient release Tree species composition Microsite conditions Litter type 



Financial support was provided through NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Discovery Grants (RGPIN 2015-03699) to N. Bélanger, and a FODAR (Fonds de développement académique du réseau) Actions stratégiques grant to N. Bélanger, D. Rivest and S. Kembel. We thank Xavier Fournier Tréhout, Ralitsa Mincheva, Olivia Bélanger, Daniel Lesieur and Justin Bélanger for their help in the field and laboratory. We are also grateful to Hélène Lalande and Dominic Bélanger for laboratory analysis and Mélanie Desrochers for preparing Fig. 1. Finally, we thank Domtar Forest Products, the Station de biologie des Laurentides of Université de Montréal, the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (Quebec Government) and Virginie-Arielle Angers for providing access to the research sites in Windsor, St. Hippolyte, LaBlanche and Ste Agathe, respectively.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 297 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre d’étude de la forêtUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Département Science et TechnologieUniversité du Québec TéluqMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Institut des Sciences de la Forêt TempéréeUniversité du Québec en OutaouaisRiponCanada

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