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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Estimating the critical N:C from litter decomposition data and its relation to soil organic matter stoichiometry

Agren GI, Hyvonen R, Berglund SL, Hobbie SE


Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) interact strongly during decomposition of litters with repercussions for stoichiometry of soil organic matter (SOM). A characteristic parameter describing this interaction is the critical N:C ratio, r(c), i.e. the litter N:C ratio at which net N mineralisation commences. We show here how r(c) can be estimated from time series of decomposition and use four large data bases to investigate how environment and litter properties determine r(c). We find that re increases with increasing initial litter N:C and N fertilisation. The critical N:C responds also to large scale variations in environment but it is not clear which environmental variable drives this variability. With increasing r(c) we find an increase in SOM N:C. SOM N:C increases more rapidly than r(c), which can be explained if the decrease in substrate quality during decomposition is taken into account. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Carbon; Decomposition; Litter; Nitrogen; Soil organic matter; Stoichiometry

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2013, Volume: 67, pages: 312-318
Publisher: Elsevier