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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Altered litter inputs modify carbon and nitrogen storage in soil organic matter in a lowland tropical forest

Sayer, Emma J.; Baxendale, Catherine; Birkett, Ali J.; Brechet, Laetitia M.; Castro, Biancolini; Kerdraon-Byrne, Deirdre; Lopez-Sangil, Luis; Rodtassana, Chadtip


Soil organic matter (SOM) in tropical forests is an important store of carbon (C) and nutrients. Although SOM storage could be affected by global changes via altered plant productivity, we know relatively little about SOM stabilisation and turnover in tropical forests compared to temperate systems. Here, we investigated changes in soil C and N within particle size fractions representing particulate organic matter (POM) and mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM) after 13 years of experimental litter removal (L-) and litter addition (L+) treatments in a lowland tropical forest. We hypothesized that reduced nitrogen (N) availability in L- plots would result in N-mining of MAOM, whereas long-term litter addition would increase POM, without altering the C:N ratio of SOM fractions. Overall, SOM-N declined more than SOM-C with litter removal, providing evidence of N-mining in the L- plots, which increased the soil C:N ratio. However, contrary to expectations, the C:N ratio increased most in the largest POM fraction, whereas the C:N ratio of MAOM remained unchanged. We did not observe the expected increases in POM with litter addition, which we attribute to rapid turnover of unprotected SOM. Measurements of ion exchange rates to assess changes in N availability and soil chemistry revealed that litter removal increased the mobility of ammonium-N and aluminium, whereas litter addition increased the mobility of nitrate-N and iron, which could indicate SOM priming in both treatments. Our study suggests that altered litter inputs affect multiple processes contributing to SOM storage and we propose potential mechanisms to inform future work.


Soil C:N ratio; SOM fractions; Litter manipulation; Nitrogen availability; Priming; SOM storage

Published in

2021, Volume: 156, number: 1, pages: 115-130
Publisher: SPRINGER

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science
    Soil Science

    Publication identifier


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