Leaf digestibility and litter decomposability are related in a wide range of subarctic plant species and types

Authors

  • J. H. C. CORNELISSEN,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Systems Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
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  • H. M. QUESTED,

    1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Sheffield University, 26 Taptonville Road, Sheffield S10 5BR, UK,
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    • §

      Present address: Department of Botany, Stockholm University, S 106 91, Stockholm, Sweden.

  • D. GWYNN-JONES,

    1. Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DA, Wales,
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  • R. S. P. VAN LOGTESTIJN,

    1. Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Systems Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
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  • M. A. H. DE BEUS,

    1. Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Systems Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
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  • A. KONDRATCHUK,

    1. Department of Plant Physiology, Urals State University, Ekaterinburg 620083, Russia
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  • T. V. CALLAGHAN,

    1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Sheffield University, 26 Taptonville Road, Sheffield S10 5BR, UK,
    2. Royal Academy of Sweden, Abisko Naturvetenskapliga Station, S-981-07, Abisko, Sweden, and
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  • R. AERTS

    1. Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Systems Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
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†Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: hans.cornelissen@ecology.falw.vu.nl

Summary

  • 1Herbivory and litter decomposition are key controllers of ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling. We hypothesized that foliar defences of plant species against vertebrate herbivores would reduce leaf digestibility and would subsequently, through ‘afterlife effects’, reduce litter decomposability.
  • 2We tested this hypothesis by screening 32 subarctic plant species, belonging to eight types in terms of life form and nutrient economy strategy, for (1) leaf digestibility in cow rumen juice; (2) biochemical and structural traits that might explain variation in digestibility; and (3) litter mass loss during simultaneous incubation in an outdoor subarctic litter bed.
  • 3Interspecific variation in green-leaf digestibility corresponded significantly with that in litter decomposability; this relationship was strongly driven by overall variation among the eight plant types (r = 0·92). The same relationship was not detectable within plant types in taxonomic relatedness tests.
  • 4Several biochemical and structural parameters (phenol-to-N ratio, lignin-to-N ratio) explained a significant part of the variation in leaf digestibility, but again only between and not within plant types.
  • 5Our results provide further support for the role played by foliar defence in the link between plant and soil via the decomposition pathway. They are also a new example of the potential control of plant functional types over carbon and nutrient dynamics in ecosystems.

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