Effects of Litter Quality Diminish and Effects of Vegetation Type Develop During Litter Decomposition of Two Shrub Species in an Alpine Treeline Ecotone

Abstract

Because climate change is predicted to have a strong impact on high-altitude ecosystems, a better knowledge of litter decomposition in alpine ecosystems is critical to improve our predictions of the effect of climate change on ecosystem processes and services such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and below-ground biodiversity. To evaluate the effects of vegetation types [alpine shrubland (AS) and alpine meadow (AM)] and litter quality on litter decomposition and related biochemical processes, the decomposition of leaf litter of two dominant shrub species, Sorbus rufopilosa (SR, high quality) and Rhododendron lapponicum (RL, low quality), was studied using the litterbag method in an alpine treeline ecotone on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. After 1 year of decomposition, cellulolytic enzyme activities and gram-negative bacterial biomass were higher in shrubland than in meadow. However, higher fungal biomass, fungal/bacteria ratio and ligninolytic activity were observed in meadow than in shrubland after 2 years of decomposition. During the first year of decomposition, litter decomposition was faster in shrubland than in meadow probably due to the home-field advantage (HFA) effect and the bacteria-dominated decomposition, whereas in later decomposition stages, litter decomposition was faster in meadow than in shrubland, as the HFA effect diminished and fungal-dominated decomposition of recalcitrant components took over. These results indicated that litter quality effects were generally strongest in the first year and diminished in later stages when the effect of vegetation type in incubation sites developed.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their insightful comments. This work was financially supported by projects from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31570605), the Key Project of Sichuan Education Department (18ZA0393), National Key Research and Development Plan (2017YFC0505003) and Key Research and Development Project of Sichuan Province (18ZDYF0307). Haifeng Zheng acknowledges China Scholarship Council for supporting a Ph.D. program grant (201806910047). Petr Heděnec was supported by a Marie Curie European Fellowship (747824-AFOREST-H2020-MSCA-IF-2016/H2020-MSCA-IF-2016).

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HZ and YC conceived and designed the study with advice by YL. HZ, YC, YP, ZX, BT, LZ, LG, and LW performed the research. HZ, LV, and PH analysed the data; HZ led the writing of the first draft. LV, YL, and PH gave insightful suggestion for the improvement in the manuscript. All authors reviewed and approved the manuscript.

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Zheng, H., Chen, Y., Liu, Y. et al. Effects of Litter Quality Diminish and Effects of Vegetation Type Develop During Litter Decomposition of Two Shrub Species in an Alpine Treeline Ecotone. Ecosystems 24, 197–210 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-020-00512-9

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Keywords

  • Litter quality
  • Litter decomposition
  • Lignocellulolytic enzyme
  • Microbial community
  • Alpine treeline ecotone
  • Soil carbon