The effects of leaf litter evenness on decomposition depend on which plant functional group is dominant

Daijiang Li, Sun Yat-Sen University
Shaolin Peng, Sun Yat-Sen University
Baoming Chen, Sun Yat-Sen University


Background and aims: Climbing plants are increasing in dominance in the subtropical forests of South China and other areas around the world, altering patterns of plant dominance and evenness in community. We investigated how changes in species' identity and patterns of leaf litter evenness affected decomposition of litter mixtures. Methods: We used litter-bag method to study the influence of different relative abundance mixtures (75 %: 25 %; 50 %: 50 %; 25 %: 75 %) of plant litter from two functional groups (climbing plants and trees) on decomposition rates in a subtropical forest in Guangdong, China. Results: We found negative non-additive effects of mixing litter overall and species composition affected decomposition rates the most. In addition, when climbing plants were dominant, even mixtures decomposed slower significantly than uneven mixtures. Evenness did not affect decomposition rates, however, when trees were dominant. The magnitude of antagonistic effects increased with increasing dominance of climbing plants but decreased with time, suggesting a strong negative feedback between litter proportion of climbing plant and decomposition rates at the initial stage. Conclusion: The evenness in leaf litter composition affects rates of decomposition, but these effects depend on which plant functional group is dominant. Thus, we should pay more attention to shifts in identity of dominant species and patterns of community evenness. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.