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Litter Quality Modulates Effects of Dissolved Nitrogen on Leaf Decomposition by Stream Microbial Communities

Jérémy Jabiol, Antoine Lecerf, Sylvain Lamothe, Mark O Gessner, Eric Chauvet
Microbial Ecology 2019 March 21
Rates of leaf litter decomposition in streams are strongly influenced both by inorganic nutrients dissolved in stream water and by litter traits such as lignin, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations. As a result, decomposition rates of different leaf species can show contrasting responses to stream nutrient enrichment resulting from human activities. It is unclear, however, whether the root cause of such discrepancies in field observations is the interspecific variation in either litter nutrient or litter lignin concentrations. To address this question, we conducted a controlled laboratory experiment with a known fungal community to determine decomposition rates of 38 leaf species exhibiting contrasting litter traits (N, P and lignin concentrations), which were exposed to 8 levels of dissolved N concentrations representative of field conditions across European streams (0.07 to 8.96 mg N L-1 ). The effect of N enrichment on decomposition rate was modelled using Monod kinetics to quantify N effects across litter species. Lignin concentration was the most important litter trait determining decomposition rates and their response to N enrichment. In particular, increasing dissolved N supply from 0.1 to 3.0 mg N L-1 accelerated the decomposition of lignin-poor litter (e.g. < 10% of lignin, 2.9× increase ± 1.4 SD, n = 14) more strongly than that of litter rich in lignin (e.g. > 15% of lignin, 1.4× increase ± 0.2 SD, n = 9). Litter nutrient concentrations were less important, with a slight positive effect of P on decomposition rates and no effect of litter N. These results indicate that shifts in riparian vegetation towards species characterized by high litter lignin concentrations could alleviate the stimulation of C turnover by stream nutrient enrichment.


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