Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils

Ellen Desie*, Karen Vancampenhout, Bart Nyssen, Leon van den Berg, Maaike Weijters, Gert Jan van Duinen, Jan den Ouden, Koenraad Van Meerbeek, Bart Muys

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The adverse effects of soil acidification are extensive and may result in hampered ecosystem functioning. Admixture of tree species with nutrient rich litter has been proposed to restore acidified forest soils and improve forest vitality, productivity and resilience. However, it is common belief that litter effects are insufficiently functional for restoration of poorly buffered sandy soils. Therefore we examined the effect of leaf litter on the forest floor, soil chemistry and soil biota in temperate forest stands along a range of sandy soil types in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Specifically, we address: i) Which tree litter properties contribute most to the mitigation of soil acidification effects and ii) Do rich litter species have the potential to improve the belowground nutrient status of poorly buffered, sandy soils? Our analysis using structural equation modelling shows that litter base cation concentration is the decisive trait for the dominating soil buffering mechanism in forests that are heavily influenced by atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. This is in contrast with studies in which leaf litter quality is summarized by C/N ratio. We suggest that the concept of rich litter is context dependent and should consider Liebig's law of the most limiting: if N is not limiting in the ecosystem, litter C/N becomes of low importance, while base cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium) become determining. We further find that on poorly buffered soils, tree species with rich litter induce fast nutrient cycling, sustain higher earthworm biomass and keep topsoil base saturation above a threshold of 30%. Hence, rich litter can trigger a regime shift to the exchange buffer domain in sandy soils. This highlights that admixing tree species with litter rich in base cations is a promising measure to remediate soil properties on acidified sandy soils that receive, or have received, high inputs of N via deposition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134383
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume699
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2020

Fingerprint

Nutrients
forest soil
litter
Soils
sandy soil
cation
Cations
leaf litter
Acidification
Positive ions
nutrient cycle
Ecosystems
soil biota
soil chemistry
nutrient
ecosystem
structural analysis
nutrient cycling
temperate forest
buffering

Keywords

  • Base cations
  • C/N ratio
  • Litter quality
  • N deposition
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Rich litter species

Cite this

Desie, E., Vancampenhout, K., Nyssen, B., van den Berg, L., Weijters, M., van Duinen, G. J., ... Muys, B. (2020). Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils. Science of the Total Environment, 699, [134383]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134383
Desie, Ellen ; Vancampenhout, Karen ; Nyssen, Bart ; van den Berg, Leon ; Weijters, Maaike ; van Duinen, Gert Jan ; den Ouden, Jan ; Van Meerbeek, Koenraad ; Muys, Bart. / Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils. In: Science of the Total Environment. 2020 ; Vol. 699.
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abstract = "The adverse effects of soil acidification are extensive and may result in hampered ecosystem functioning. Admixture of tree species with nutrient rich litter has been proposed to restore acidified forest soils and improve forest vitality, productivity and resilience. However, it is common belief that litter effects are insufficiently functional for restoration of poorly buffered sandy soils. Therefore we examined the effect of leaf litter on the forest floor, soil chemistry and soil biota in temperate forest stands along a range of sandy soil types in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Specifically, we address: i) Which tree litter properties contribute most to the mitigation of soil acidification effects and ii) Do rich litter species have the potential to improve the belowground nutrient status of poorly buffered, sandy soils? Our analysis using structural equation modelling shows that litter base cation concentration is the decisive trait for the dominating soil buffering mechanism in forests that are heavily influenced by atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. This is in contrast with studies in which leaf litter quality is summarized by C/N ratio. We suggest that the concept of rich litter is context dependent and should consider Liebig's law of the most limiting: if N is not limiting in the ecosystem, litter C/N becomes of low importance, while base cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium) become determining. We further find that on poorly buffered soils, tree species with rich litter induce fast nutrient cycling, sustain higher earthworm biomass and keep topsoil base saturation above a threshold of 30{\%}. Hence, rich litter can trigger a regime shift to the exchange buffer domain in sandy soils. This highlights that admixing tree species with litter rich in base cations is a promising measure to remediate soil properties on acidified sandy soils that receive, or have received, high inputs of N via deposition.",
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Desie, E, Vancampenhout, K, Nyssen, B, van den Berg, L, Weijters, M, van Duinen, GJ, den Ouden, J, Van Meerbeek, K & Muys, B 2020, 'Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils', Science of the Total Environment, vol. 699, 134383. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134383

Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils. / Desie, Ellen; Vancampenhout, Karen; Nyssen, Bart; van den Berg, Leon; Weijters, Maaike; van Duinen, Gert Jan; den Ouden, Jan; Van Meerbeek, Koenraad; Muys, Bart.

In: Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 699, 134383, 10.01.2020.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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T1 - Litter quality and the law of the most limiting: Opportunities for restoring nutrient cycles in acidified forest soils

AU - Desie, Ellen

AU - Vancampenhout, Karen

AU - Nyssen, Bart

AU - van den Berg, Leon

AU - Weijters, Maaike

AU - van Duinen, Gert Jan

AU - den Ouden, Jan

AU - Van Meerbeek, Koenraad

AU - Muys, Bart

PY - 2020/1/10

Y1 - 2020/1/10

N2 - The adverse effects of soil acidification are extensive and may result in hampered ecosystem functioning. Admixture of tree species with nutrient rich litter has been proposed to restore acidified forest soils and improve forest vitality, productivity and resilience. However, it is common belief that litter effects are insufficiently functional for restoration of poorly buffered sandy soils. Therefore we examined the effect of leaf litter on the forest floor, soil chemistry and soil biota in temperate forest stands along a range of sandy soil types in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Specifically, we address: i) Which tree litter properties contribute most to the mitigation of soil acidification effects and ii) Do rich litter species have the potential to improve the belowground nutrient status of poorly buffered, sandy soils? Our analysis using structural equation modelling shows that litter base cation concentration is the decisive trait for the dominating soil buffering mechanism in forests that are heavily influenced by atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. This is in contrast with studies in which leaf litter quality is summarized by C/N ratio. We suggest that the concept of rich litter is context dependent and should consider Liebig's law of the most limiting: if N is not limiting in the ecosystem, litter C/N becomes of low importance, while base cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium) become determining. We further find that on poorly buffered soils, tree species with rich litter induce fast nutrient cycling, sustain higher earthworm biomass and keep topsoil base saturation above a threshold of 30%. Hence, rich litter can trigger a regime shift to the exchange buffer domain in sandy soils. This highlights that admixing tree species with litter rich in base cations is a promising measure to remediate soil properties on acidified sandy soils that receive, or have received, high inputs of N via deposition.

AB - The adverse effects of soil acidification are extensive and may result in hampered ecosystem functioning. Admixture of tree species with nutrient rich litter has been proposed to restore acidified forest soils and improve forest vitality, productivity and resilience. However, it is common belief that litter effects are insufficiently functional for restoration of poorly buffered sandy soils. Therefore we examined the effect of leaf litter on the forest floor, soil chemistry and soil biota in temperate forest stands along a range of sandy soil types in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Specifically, we address: i) Which tree litter properties contribute most to the mitigation of soil acidification effects and ii) Do rich litter species have the potential to improve the belowground nutrient status of poorly buffered, sandy soils? Our analysis using structural equation modelling shows that litter base cation concentration is the decisive trait for the dominating soil buffering mechanism in forests that are heavily influenced by atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. This is in contrast with studies in which leaf litter quality is summarized by C/N ratio. We suggest that the concept of rich litter is context dependent and should consider Liebig's law of the most limiting: if N is not limiting in the ecosystem, litter C/N becomes of low importance, while base cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium) become determining. We further find that on poorly buffered soils, tree species with rich litter induce fast nutrient cycling, sustain higher earthworm biomass and keep topsoil base saturation above a threshold of 30%. Hence, rich litter can trigger a regime shift to the exchange buffer domain in sandy soils. This highlights that admixing tree species with litter rich in base cations is a promising measure to remediate soil properties on acidified sandy soils that receive, or have received, high inputs of N via deposition.

KW - Base cations

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KW - Litter quality

KW - N deposition

KW - Nutrient cycling

KW - Rich litter species

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