Effect of plant litter addition on element leaching in young sandy soils

Authors

  • Claudia Zönnchen,

    1. Brandenburg University of Technology – Chair of Soil Protection and Recultivation, P.O. Box 101344, 03013 Cottbus, Germany
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  • Wolfgang Schaaf,

    1. Brandenburg University of Technology – Chair of Soil Protection and Recultivation, P.O. Box 101344, 03013 Cottbus, Germany
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  • Jürgen Esperschütz

    1. Technische Universität München – Chair of Soil Ecology, Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan, Ingolstädter Landstraße 1, 85746 Neuherberg, Germany
    2. Helmholtz Zentrum München – Research Unit Environmental Genomics, Ingolstädter Landstraße 1, 85746 Neuherberg, Germany
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Abstract

The knowledge about element leaching and biogeochemical cycles during initial stages of soil development is very limited. Therefore, we studied the effects of parent material characteristics and plant litter addition on element leaching from young sandy soils in a microcosm experiment. Our objective was to evaluate the function of young soils as a source and/or sink for nutrients during initial pedogenesis and to identify main processes which are involved in the initial development of biogeochemical cycles. The main research questions were: (1) How do differences in parent material characteristics affect nutrient leaching?; and (2) How is nutrient leaching of young soils influenced by litter addition of different plant functional groups (e.g., legume and grass species)? Combined treatments of two minimally weathered parent materials (pure sand and loamy sand) with plant litter of two plant species (Lotus corniculatus L. and Calamagrostis epigejos L.) were investigated in a soil column experiment. In addition, control columns with parent material or plant litter only were included. Carbonate weathering as a main source for calcium leaching was induced by the moderately acidic irrigation solution used in the experiment. It was 7.5 fold greater for the loamy sand parent material compared to the pure sand despite lower carbonate contents in the loamy sand. Leaching of K was very low for both parent materials but greater for the loamy sand parent material, likely due to transfer processes from fixed to exchangeable potassium forms in the clay minerals of the loamy sand. Plant litter addition generally increased leaching losses. Carbonate dissolution was intensified by both plant litter types, especially by L. corniculatus, very likely due to H+ released during nitrification of N released from plant litter and an increase in partial pressure of CO2 from microbial respiration. In contrast, K was largely retained in the soils, probably due to fixation by clay minerals and microbial immobilization. Only the pure sand treated with L. corniculatus litter leached K, resulting in 4–6 fold greater leaching losses compared to all other treatments. Nitrogen released from L. corniculatus litter was almost completely nitrified and was nearly doubled as compared to that from C. epigejos, resulting in greater N leaching. The results of our study allow identifying the general function and processes of vegetation patches in young ecosystems formed as a result of initial parent material characteristics and invading vegetation with respect to litter decomposition, soil solution composition, nutrient retention and leaching, and effects on the soil mineral phase. These patterns are not mere additive effects of parent materials plus plant litter, but reflect differences in biogeochemical process intensities and could result in an increasing heterogeneity of soil properties, nutrient availability, and element leaching fluxes with time.

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