Forest edges have become important features in landscapes worldwide. Edges are exposed to a different microclimate and higher atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition compared to forest interiors. It is, however, unclear how microclimate and elevated N deposition affect nutrient cycling at forest edges. We studied litter decomposition and release of N, phosphorus (P), total cations (TC) and C/N ratios during 18 months via the litterbag technique along edge-to-interior transects in two oak (Quercus robur L.) and two pine (Pinus nigra ssp. laricio Maire and ssp. nigra Arnold) stands in Belgium. Furthermore, the roles of edge conditions (microclimate, atmospheric deposition, soil fauna and soil physicochemical conditions), litter quality and edge decomposer community were investigated as underlying driving factors for litter decomposition. Litter of edge and interior was interchanged (focusing on the influence of edge conditions and litter quality) and placed in open-top chamber (OTC), which create an edge (warmer) microclimate. As the decomposer macrofauna was more abundant at the edge than in the interior, the OTCs were used to isolate the effects of warming versus soil fauna. Oak litter at the edge lost 87 and 37% more mass than litter in the interior. We demonstrated an edge effect on litter decomposition and nutrient release, caused by an interplay of edge conditions (atmospheric deposition of N and TC, soil pH and C/N ratio), litter quality and soil fauna. Consequently, edge effects must be accounted for when quantifying ecosystem processes, such as litter decomposition and nutrient cycling in fragmented landscapes.
Ecosystems – Springer Journals
Published: Sep 7, 2017
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