Linking litter calcium, earthworms and soil properties: a common garden test with 14 tree species


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Tree species can influence biogeochemistry through variation in the quantity and chemistry of their litter, and associated impacts on the soil heterotrophic community. However, the role that different plant traits play in these processes is not well understood, nor is it clear whether species effects on soils largely reflect a gymnosperm vs. angiosperm contrast. Using a replicated, long-term monoculture plot experiment, we examined variation in soils among 14 gymnosperm and angiosperm tree species 30 years after plot establishment, and assessed the role of litter chemistry vis-à-vis such variation. Differences in litter calcium concentrations among tree species resulted in profound changes in soil acidity and fertility that were similar within and among tree groups. Tree species rich in calcium were associated with increased native earthworm abundance and diversity, as well as increased soil pH, exchangeable calcium, per cent base saturation and forest floor turnover rate.