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Research article2006Peer reviewed

Aboveground and belowground responses to quality and heterogeneity of organic inputs to the boreal forest

Dehlin H, Nilsson MC, Wardle DA


Leaf litter and other organic resources returned to the soil are important regulators of ecological processes in forest ecosystems, and their ecological impacts may be strongly influenced both by their quality and by interactions between coexisting resource types. To date, most studies on effects of resource identity and mixing have only involved leaf litter, despite the fact that other resource types constitute a major input to the soil. We investigated how quality and heterogeneity of organic substrates found in boreal forests affects the activity and community structure of soil microbes, and plant growth. Six organic substrates (wood, charcoal, berries, sporocarps, vertebrate faeces and leaf litter) were added singly or in mixtures of two, three and six resource types to pots containing forest soil (with or without tree seedlings of Betula pendula Roth). The largest positive effects of single substrates on microbial basal respiration (BR), substrate-induced respiration (SIR) and microbial metabolic quotient (qCO(2)) were found for nutrient-rich substrates (faeces and sporocarps) or substrates with high sugar-content (berries). Mixing of substrates had no effect on BR or SIR, but decreased qCO(2) or altered the microbial community structure for specific combinations of substrates. In contrast to the niche complementarity hypothesis, microbial catabolic diversity was not stimulated by greater diversity of resources. Seedling growth responses to single substrates were neutral or negative; the inhibition of growth probably resulted largely from microbial competition for nutrients. Substrate mixing enhanced seedling nutrient-uptake and growth for all mixtures containing sporocarps and leaf litter. Overall, plants responded more strongly to resource heterogeneity than microbes, and synergistic effects only occurred when nutrient-rich substrates were present within the substrate mixtures. In particular, our results demonstrate a role for complex and non-additive interactions among previously overlooked resource types returned to the soil in influencing ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling and plant productivity

Published in

2006, Volume: 150, number: 1, pages: 108-118
Publisher: SPRINGER

      SLU Authors

    • Dehlin, Helena

      • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
        • Wardle, David

          • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Forest Science

        Publication identifier


        Permanent link to this page (URI)