Do litter-mediated plant-soil feedbacks influence Mediterranean oak regeneration? A two-year pot experiment
Background & Aims
Oak seedling establishment is difficult and may be partly explained by litter-mediated interactions with neighbors. Litter effects can be physical or chemical and result in positive or negative feedback effects for seedlings. Mediterranean species leaves contain high levels of secondary metabolites which suggest that negative litter effects could be important.
Seedlings of Quercus ilex and Quercus pubescens were grown for two years in pots with natural soil and litter inputs from 6 Mediterranean woody species, artificial litter (only physical effect) or bare soil.
Litter types had highly different mass loss (41–80%), which correlated with soil organic C, total N and microbial activity. Litter of Q. pubescens increased soil humidity and oak seedlings aerial biomass. Litters of Cotinus coggygria and Rosmarinus officinalis, containing high quantities of phenolics and terpenes respectively, decomposed fast and led to specific soil microbial catabolic profiles but did not influence oak seedling growth, chemistry or mycorrhization rates.
Physical litter effects through improved soil humidity seem to be predominant for oak seedling development. Despite high litter phenolics content, we detected no chemical effects on oak seedlings. Litter traits conferring a higher ability to retain soil moisture in dry periods deserve further attention as they may be critical to explain plant-soil feedbacks in Mediterranean ecosystems.
KeywordsLitter effects Allelopathy Soil microorganisms Secondary metabolites Litter traits
This work was funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) through the SecPriMe2 project (ANR-12-BSV7-0016-01) and Irstea/PACA Region for PhD funding of Jordane Gavinet. The authors thank Patrice Brahic and the National Forest Office (ONF) for help with nursery maintenance, Caroline Lecareux for secondary metabolites analysis, Sylvie Dupouyet, Roland Estève, Jean-Michel Lopez for continued technical assistance and other members of the DFME and RECOVER teams for their technical help.
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