Litter decay dynamics of paper birch (Betula papyrifera) were assessed at the Aspen free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) facility in northern Wisconsin, USA. Leaf litter was decomposed for 12 months under factorial combinations of 360 vs. 560 μL CO2 L−1, crossed with 36 vs. 55 nL O3 L−1. To differentiate between substrate quality and environment effects, litterbags were placed in their Native Plots of origin or transplanted into the other treatments. CO2 enrichment, regardless of O3 concentration, produced poorer quality litter (high C/N, lignin/N and condensed tannins) than did ambient CO2 (low C/N, lignin/N and condensed tannins). Substrate quality differences were reflected in the mass loss rates (k-values), which were high for litter generated under ambient CO2 (0.887 year−1) and low for litter generated under elevated CO2 (0.674 year−1). The rate-retarding effects of CO2 enrichment were neither alleviated nor exacerbated by O3 exposure. Decay rates varied, however, depending on whether litter was placed back into its plot of origin or transplanted to Common Gardens. The results of this study are species specific, but they have important implications for understanding the processes regulating storage of fixed C and the release of CO2 from northern forest ecosystems.
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