Litter addition and understory removal influenced soil organic carbon quality and mineral nitrogen supply in a subtropical plantation forest

Abstract

Aims

Aboveground litter inputs have been modified by global changes in plantation forests, where understory management is also prevalent, which may alter soil fertility and stand productivity. This study aimed to quantify the specific roles of litter and understory in affecting soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics.

Methods

A field experiment was established with four treatments, namely, litter addition (LA), understory removal (UR), litter addition and understory removal (LA + UR), and a control, in a subtropical Cunninghamia lanceolata plantation. Topsoil δ13C, organic C concentration, storage and decomposition, mineral N, N mineralization, and C and N hydrolase activities were analyzed.

Results

Litter addition significantly increased soil organic C, macro-particulate organic C (macro-POC) and mineral N at a 0–5 cm depth, but decreased δ13Cmacro-POC at 0–5 cm and 5–10 cm depths. Understory removal significantly increased soil NH4+-N, the rates of nitrification and net N mineralization as well as the soil organic C respiration rate at the two depths, while it decreased the C storage in bulk soil, especially in mineral protected pools. The activities of β-glucosidase and β-N-acetylglucosaminidase increased with litter addition and understory removal, respectively.

Conclusions

Litter addition tends to improve soil C quantity and quality due to fresh organic C inputs, while understory removal helps increase the N supply via the acceleration of N mineralization and the absence of understory plant uptake.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31760200 & 31870427), Science and Technology Project of Jiangxi Provincial Department of Education (GJJ190173), the Research Project of Jiangxi Provincial Department of Forestry (201806) and Jiangxi Provincal “Double Thousand Plan” of Scientific and Technological Innovation for Youths (jxsq2019201080). We greatly thank the three anonymous referees for their insightful comments.

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Correspondence to Fu-Sheng Chen.

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Fang, XM., Wang, G.G., Xu, ZJ. et al. Litter addition and understory removal influenced soil organic carbon quality and mineral nitrogen supply in a subtropical plantation forest. Plant Soil (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04787-8

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Keywords

  • Litterfall and understory manipulation
  • δ13C
  • Particle-size fractions
  • SOC quality
  • N mineralization