Effects of litters with different concentrations of phenolics on the competition between Calluna vulgaris and Deschampsia flexuosa

J.D. Hofland-Zijlstra, F. Berendse

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15 Citations (Scopus)


We hypothesized that the outcome of competition between ericaceous plants and grasses is strongly affected by the concentrations of phenolics in the litter that they produce. To test the effect of phenolic-rich litter on soluble soil nitrogen concentrations, plant nitrogen uptake and inter-specific competition, we conducted a greenhouse experiment with the shrub Calluna vulgaris and the grass Deschampsia flexuosa and their leaf litters. Two litters of C. vulgaris were used, with equal nitrogen concentration but different (high and low) concentrations of total phenolics. The D. flexuosa leaf litter contained lower concentrations of phenolics, but higher concentrations of nitrogen than the C. vulgaris litters. The plants were grown in monocultures and in mixed cultures. Inorganic and dissolved organic nitrogen were measured monthly during the experiment. After four months, we measured above- and belowground biomass and the nutrient concentrations in above- and belowground plant parts. In monocultures, C. vulgaris produced more shoot and root biomass on its own litter than with no litter. Growth of Calluna was reduced on grass litter. D. flexuosa plants produced most biomass on their own litter type, whether in monocultures or in mixed cultures. Addition of Calluna litter stimulated the growth of D. flexuosa both in monoculture and in mixtures. The grass plants outcompeted Calluna both on shrub litter and on grass litter but not when grown without litter. The two C. vulgaris litter types that differed in their concentration of phenolics did not differ in their effects on the competition between the two species or on the production of inorganic and dissolved organic nitrogen. We conclude that the nitrogen content of the litter is more important as a plant feature driving competition between shrubs and grasses than the concentrations of phenolics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-141
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • caerulea l moench
  • mycorrhizal fungi
  • microbial activity
  • nutrient dynamics
  • alaskan taiga
  • l trin
  • l hull
  • nitrogen
  • soil
  • plant

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