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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2007

Decomposition and substrate quality of leaf litters and fine roots from three exotic plantations and a native forest in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia

Lemma B, Nilsson I, Kleja DB, Olsson M, Knicker H


Substrate quality and decomposition (measured as CO2 release in laboratory microcosms) of fresh leaf litter and fine roots of Cupressus lusitanica, Pinus patula, Eucalyptus grandis and native forest trees were studied. Changes in litter chemistry in each forest stand were analysed by comparing fresh leaf litter (collected from trees) and decomposed litter from the forest floor. Elemental concentrations, proximate fractions including monomeric sugars, and cross polarisation magic-angle spinning (CPMAS) C-13 NMR spectra were analysed in leaf litters, decomposed litter and fine roots. Leaf litters and fine roots varied in their initial substrate chemistry with Ca concentration in leaf litters being higher than that in fine roots. In each stand, fine roots had a higher acid unhydrolysable residue (AUR) (except for the Pinus stand), higher holocellulose concentration and lower concentration of water-soluble extractives (WSE) and dichloromethane extractives (NPE) than fresh leaf litter. Likewise, C-13 NMR spectra of fine roots showed lower alkyl and carboxyl C, and higher phenolic (except P. patula), aromatic and O-alkyl C proportions than leaf litters. Compared with fresh leaf litter, decomposed litter had lower concentrations of potassium, holocellulose, WSE, NPE, arabinose and galactose, similar or higher concentrations of Mg, Ca, S and P, and higher concentrations of N and AUR. CPMAS C-13 NMR spectra of decomposed litter showed a higher relative increase in signal intensity due to methoxyl C, aromatic C, phenolic C and carboxylic C compared with alkyl C. In a microcosm decomposition study, the proportion of initial C remaining in leaf litter and fine roots significantly fitted an exponential regression model. The decomposition constants (k) ranged between 0.0013 and 0.0030 d(-1) for leaf litters and 0.0010-0.0017 d(-1) for fine roots. In leaf litters there was a positive correlation between the k value and the initial Ca concentration, and in fine roots there was an analogous positive correlation with initial WSE. Leaf litters decomposed in the order Cupressus > native forest > Eucalyptus similar to Pinus, and fine roots in the order Pinus > native forest > Cupressus-Eucalyptus. In each stand the fine root decomposition was significantly lower than the leaf litter decomposition, except for the P. patula stand where the order was reversed. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2007, Volume: 39, number: 9, pages: 2317-2328

    SLU Authors

    • Nilsson, Ingvar

      • Department of Soil Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
        • Olsson, Mats

          • Department of Forest Soils, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Agricultural Science

        Publication Identifiers


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