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Characterization of dissolved organic matter in decomposing Norway spruce and silver birch litter


O. Kiikkilä. E-mail:


Dissolved organic matter (DOM) plays an important role in transport, storage and cycling of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in forest soils where litter is one of the main sources. The aim was to study the amount and characteristics of DOM leached from freshly fallen litters of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth.), Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) and their mixture during decomposition. DOM was collected after irrigation on eight occasions during 252 days incubation in the laboratory at about 18°C, including one freeze-thaw cycle. During the incubation about 33–35% of C from birch and spruce litter and 40% of C from their mixture was lost. The total cumulative flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from the mixture of litters was approximately 40% larger than that from single litters. The flux of DOC, DON, phenolic compounds and proteins followed a two-stage pattern during decomposition. In the first stage the initially large fluxes decreased gradually. In the second stage, after freezing and thawing, the fluxes tended to increase again. Mixing birch and spruce litters and a freeze-thaw cycle seems to increase the decomposition of litter and result in the increased flux of DOC, DON and phenolic compounds. The flux of hemicelluloses and the degradability of DOM were large at the first leaching occasion and decreased during the incubation. Birch had a 40% larger total flux of easily degradable DOM than spruce, supporting the previous consistent signs of greater microbial biomass and activities related to C and N cycling in soil under birch than under spruce. It is known that recalcitrant DOM might be stabilized whereas labile DOM may promote microbial activity and nutrient cycling. We conclude that the storage and cycling of C and N is affected by both tree species and degradation stage of litter in forest soils.