Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 7, pp 6791–6800 | Cite as

Combined influence of external nitrogen and soil contact on plant residue decomposition and indications from stable isotope signatures

  • Chunming JiangEmail author
  • Wantai YuEmail author
Research Article


External nitrogen (N) supply has been testified to exert important impacts on plant residue decomposition. The influence of N may be interactive with soil contact in terrestrial ecosystems. However, the joint mechanisms of decomposition of plant residues driven by soil contact and N addition remain incomplete. Using contrasting residues, including needles of Chinese fir (Cuninghamia lanceolata) (Cl) (relatively hard to degrade) vs. leaves of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus urophylla) (Eu) (relatively easy to degrade), a full factorial experiment was conducted by 360-day experiment to investigate the combined effect of N addition and soil contact on residue decay. As the microbe-manipulated decomposition could leave an imprint on the residue carbon (C) and N stable isotope, variations of the two signatures (δ13C and δ15N) were synchronously monitored. Our results firstly showed that added N sped up initial decomposition, while it played an opposite role in subsequent stage, and soil contact always stimulated decay. Under soil contact condition, we found a markedly more accelerating effect of N addition on decay of Cl than without soil contact. Linking with residue N dynamics, we thought that although N immobilized from soil could not completely meet microbial needs for decay of Cl, this N limitation was just relieved by added N, leading to this synergistic effect. At late decay stage, the N inhibiting influence was partly offset under soil contact condition, and this phenomenon was more dramatic for Eu. Our results lastly revealed that the 13C and 15N signatures mirrored and explained the underlying mechanisms of the above interactions. Overall, we concluded that external N and soil contact could interactively affect decay, depending on plant residue decomposability. These results would be used to accurately predict C sequestration for terrestrial ecosystems under heightened N scenario in the future.


Plant residue decomposition Increasing nitrogen deposition Soil contact Stable isotope signature 



We are grateful to everyone who assisted with field and laboratory work. We specially thank to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript which greatly improved this manuscript.

Funding information

This study was financially supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 31070547, 41171242, and 41105114) and Initial Scientific Research Fund for PhD Teachers in Qilu University of Technology (no. 81110270).


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Environmental Science and EngineeringQilu University of Technology (Shandong Academy of Science)JinanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Laboratory of Nutrients Recycling, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangPeople’s Republic of China

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