Decomposition of litter produced under elevated CO2: dependence on plant species and nutrient supply

Published by Ecoss on

We investigated the effect of CO2 concentration and soilnutrient availability during growth on the subsequent decomposition andnitrogen (N) release from litter of four annual grasses that differ inresource requirements and native habitat. Vulpia microstachys isa native grass found on California serpentine soils, whereas Avenafatua, Bromus hordaceus, and Lolium multiflorum areintroduced grasses restricted to more fertile sandstone soils (Hobbs & Mooney 1991). Growth in elevated CO2 altered litter C:N ratio,decomposition, and N release, but the direction and magnitude of thechanges differed among plant species and nutrient treatments. ElevatedCO2 had relatively modest effects on C:N ratio of litter,increasing this ratio in Lolium roots (and shoots at high nutrients),but decreasing C:N ratio in Avena shoots. Growth of plants underelevated CO2 decreased the decomposition rate of Vulpialitter, but increased decomposition of Avena litter from the high-nutrient treatment. The impact of elevated CO2 on N loss fromlitter also differed among species, with Vulpia litter from high-CO2 plants releasing N more slowly than ambient-CO2litter, whereas growth under elevated CO2 caused increased Nloss from Avena litter. CO2 effects on N release in Lolium and Bromus depended on the nutrient regime in whichplants were grown. There was no overall relationship between litter C:Nratio and decomposition rate or N release across species and treatments.Based on our study and the literature, we conclude that the effects ofelevated CO2 on decomposition and N release from litter arehighly species-specific. These results do not support the hypothesis thatCO2 effects on litter quality consistently lead to decreasednutrient availability in nutrient-limited ecosystems exposed to elevatedCO2.