• cellulose;
  • extracellular enzymes;
  • forest soil;
  • hemicelluloses;
  • lignin;
  • litter decomposition


The links among the changes in litter chemistry, the activity of extracellular enzymes and the microbial community composition were observed in Quercus petraea litter. Three phases of decomposition could be distinguished. In the early 4-month stage, with high activities of β-glucosidase, β-xylosidase and cellobiohydrolase, 16.4% of litter was decomposed. Hemicelluloses were rapidly removed while cellulose and lignin degradation was slow. In months 4–12, with high endocellulase and endoxylanase activities, decomposition of cellulose prevailed and 31.8% of litter mass was lost. After the third phase of decomposition until month 24 with high activity of ligninolytic enzymes, the litter mass loss reached 67.9%. After 2 years of decay, cellulose decomposition was almost complete and most of the remaining polysaccharides were in the form of hemicelluloses. Fungi largely dominated over bacteria as leaf endophytes and also in the litter immediately before contact with soil, and this fungal dominance lasted until month 4. Bacterial biomass (measured as phospholipid fatty acid content) in litter increased with time but also changed qualitatively, showing an increasing number of Actinobacteria. This paper shows that the dynamics of decomposition of individual litter components changes with time in accordance with the changes in the microbial community composition and its production of extracellular enzymes.