Phytotoxicity dynamics of decaying plant materials


Author for correspondence: Stefano Mazzoleni Tel: +39 081 7754850 Fax: +39 081 7760104 Email:


  • • Allelopathic effects of plant litter have been extensively studied, but less attention has been given to the dynamics of phytotoxicity during the decomposition processes.
  • • Decomposition experiments were carried out on above- and below-ground plant materials of 25 species of different functional groups (nitrogen fixer, forbs, woody and grasses–sedges) in aerobic and anaerobic conditions. The phytotoxicity of aqueous extracts of decomposing material was assessed by bioassay in 30 d of laboratory and 90 d of litterbag decomposition experiments.
  • • Phytotoxicity was widespread with c. 90% of the tested species showing significant phytotoxic releases. Phytotoxicity largely varied between different plant functional groups (nitrogen fixer > forbs = woody >> grasses–sedges) and was higher for leaf compared with root materials. In all species tested during decomposition, phytotoxicity rapidly decreased in aerobic conditions but sharply increased and became stable in anaerobic conditions.
  • • The results demonstrate an unexpectedly widespread occurrence of phytotoxicity with clear dynamic patterns during the decomposition processes of plant materials. The ecological consequences of this might have been underestimated.