Isopod effects on decomposition of litter produced under elevated CO2, N deposition and different soil types


S. Hattenschwiler, fax +41/61 267 35 16, e-mail


The performance of Oniscus asellus (Isopoda) and its influence on litter mass loss and mineralization was assessed in a microcosm experiment, using beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaf litter that was produced on different soil types, contrasting atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and different nitrogen deposition rates. Litter quality was significantly altered by these treatments, and many of the CO2 and N effects differed between soil types. Litter quality affected subsequent litter mass loss rates, microbial respiration, and leaching of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrate. These effects were largely independent of the presence of isopods, even though isopods highly accelerated litter mass loss, stimulated microbial respiration by 37%, and increased nitrate leaching by 50%. Isopods did not change their relative rates of litter consumption and growth in response to litter quality. Isopod mortality, however, increased with increasing litter lignin/N ratios, and was significantly different between soil types, which may indicate long-term effects on litter decomposition through altered isopod densities. Having the choice among the litter of three different species [maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and oak (Quercus robur)] grown at either ambient or elevated CO2, isopods preferred maple to beech when all the litter was produced under elevated CO2. This suggests that beyond changes in consumption, an altered food selection by isopods in a CO2-enriched atmosphere may affect the temporal and spatial composition of the litter layer in temperate forests. In contrast to previous findings, we conclude that isopods do not always increase their consumption rates, and hence do not differentially affect microbial decomposition in litter of poorer quality. Nevertheless changes in animal densities and/or shifts in their food preferences, could result in altered decomposition and carbon and nutrient turnover rates.