A Comparative-Study on Nutrient Cycling in Wet Heathland Ecosystems.2.Litter Decomposition and Nutrient Mineralization

F. Berendse, R. Bobbink, G. Rouwenhorst

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The concept of the relative nutrient requirement (L n) that was introduced in the first paper of this series is used to analyse the effects of the dominant plant population on nutrient cycling and nutrient mineralization in wet heathland ecosystems. A distinction is made between the effect that the dominant plant species has on (1) the distribution of nutrients over the plant biomass and the soil compartment of the ecosystem and (2) the recirculation rate of nutrients. The first effect of the dominant plant species can be calculated on the basis of the /k ratio (which is the ratio of the relative mortality to the decomposition constant). The second effect can be analysed using the relative nutrient requirement (L n). The mass loss and the changes in the amounts of N and P in decomposing above-ground and below-ground litter produced by Erica tetralix and Molinia caerulea were measured over three years. The rates of mass loss from both above-ground and below-ground litter of Molinia were higher than those from Erica litter. After an initial leaching phase, litter showed either a net release or a net immobilization of nitrogen or phosphorus that depended on the initial concentrations of these nutrients. At the same sites, mineralization of nitrogen and phosphorus were measured for two years both in communities dominated by Molinia and in communities dominated by Erica. There were no clear differences in the nitrogen mineralization, but in one of the two years, phosphate mineralization in the Molinia-community was significantly higher. On the basis of the theory that was developed, mineralization rates and ratios between amounts of nutrients in plant biomass and in the soil were calculated on the basis of parameters that were independently measured. There was a reasonable agreement between predicted and measured values in the Erica-communities. In the Molinia-communities there were large differences between calculated and measured values, which was explained by the observation that the soil organic matter in these ecosystems still predominantly consisted of Erica-remains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-348
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


  • Litter decomposition
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Nutrient mineralization
  • Relative nutrient requirement


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