Present address: Department of Ecology, Lund University, Sölvegatan 37, SE-22362 Lund, Sweden.
Carbon quality rather than stoichiometry controls litter decomposition in a tropical rain forest
Article first published online: 12 MAY 2010
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ecological Society
Journal of Ecology
Volume 98, Issue 4, pages 754–763, July 2010
How to Cite
Hättenschwiler, S. and Jørgensen, H. B. (2010), Carbon quality rather than stoichiometry controls litter decomposition in a tropical rain forest. Journal of Ecology, 98: 754–763. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2010.01671.x
- Issue published online: 11 JUN 2010
- Article first published online: 12 MAY 2010
- Received 15 January 2010; accepted 31 March 2010 Handling Editor: Rien Aerts
- Amazonian lowland forest;
- elemental ratios;
- litter chemistry;
- litter diversity;
- nutrient dynamics;
- soil fauna
1. Ecological stoichiometry predicts important control of the relative abundance of the key elements carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) on trophic interactions. In a nutrient-poor Amazonian lowland rain forest of French Guiana, we tested the hypothesis that decomposers exploit stoichiometrically diverse plant litter more efficiently, resulting in faster litter decomposition compared to litter with a uniform stoichiometry.
2. In a field experiment in the presence or absence of soil macrofauna, we measured litter mass loss, and N and P dynamics from all possible combinations of leaf litter from four common tree species which were distinctly separated along a C:N and along a N:P gradient.
3. Mean litter mass remaining after 204 days of field exposure varied between 25.2% and 71.3% among litter treatments. Fauna increased litter mass loss by 18%, N loss by 21% and P loss by 14%. Litter species richness had no effect on litter mass loss or nutrient dynamics. In contrast, litter mass and nutrient losses increased with increasing stoichiometric dissimilarity of litter mixtures in presence of fauna, suggesting faster decomposition of a stoichiometrically more heterogeneous litter.
4. However, the effect of stoichiometric dissimilarity was smaller than the strong C quality related litter composition effect and disappeared in the absence of fauna. Increasing proportions of litter that is relatively rich in accessible C compounds (non-structural carbohydrates, phenolics) and relatively poor in recalcitrant C (condensed tannins, lignin), correlated best with litter mass loss irrespective of fauna presence. No correlation was found for any of the nutrient related litter quality parameters and decomposition.
5. Synthesis. Our results suggest that Amazonian decomposer communities studied here are primarily limited by energy, and only secondarily by litter stoichiometry. Tropical tree species might thus influence decomposers and detritivores by the production of litter of specific C quality with potentially important feedback effects on ecosystem nutrient dynamics and availability.