Plant and Soil

, Volume 426, Issue 1–2, pp 253–266 | Cite as

Intrapopulation genotypic variation in leaf litter chemistry does not control microbial abundance and litter mass loss in silver birch, Betula pendula

  • Tarja Silfver
  • Merja Kontro
  • Ulla Paaso
  • Heini Karvinen
  • Sarita Keski-Saari
  • Markku Keinänen
  • Matti Rousi
  • Juha Mikola
Regular Article


Background and aims

Differences among plant genotypes can influence ecosystem functioning such as the rate of litter decomposition. Little is known, however, of the strength of genotypic links between litter quality, microbial abundance and litter decomposition within plant populations, or the likelihood that these processes are driven by natural selection.


We used 19 Betula pendula genotypes randomly selected from a local population in south-eastern Finland to establish a long-term, 35-month litter decomposition trial on forest ground. We analysed the effect of litter quality (N, phenolics and triterpenoids) of senescent leaves and decomposed litter on microbial abundance and litter mass loss.


We found that while litter quality and mass loss both had significant genotypic variation, the genotypic variation among silver birch trees in the quantity of bacterial and fungal DNA was marginal. In addition, although the quantity of bacterial DNA at individual tree level was negatively associated with most secondary metabolites of litter and positively with litter N, litter chemistry was not genotypically linked to litter mass loss.


Contrary to our expectations, these results suggest that natural selection may have limited influence on overall microbial DNA and litter decomposition rate in B. pendula populations by reworking the genetically controlled foliage chemistry of these populations.


Litter quality Bacteria Fungi Phenolic compounds Nitrogen Triterpenoids Decomposition Natural selection 



We thank Hanni Sikanen and Eeva Somerkoski for their help in the field work, Kaisa Soikkeli for her help in the laboratory work and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The study was funded by the Academy of Finland (decision #1122444).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Ecosystems and Environment Research ProgrammeUniversity of HelsinkiLahtiFinland
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Kuopio CampusUniversity of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland
  3. 3.Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Joensuu CampusUniversity of Eastern FinlandJoensuuFinland
  4. 4.Vantaa Research UnitNatural Resources Institute FinlandVantaaFinland

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