Nutrient release dynamics associated with native and invasive leaf litter decomposition: a mesocosm experiment.
Leaf litter contributes to the functioning of aquatic ecosystems through allochthonous inputs of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements. Here, we examine leaf litter nutrient inputs and decomposition associated with four plant species using a mesocosm approach. Native sycamore fig Ficus sycomorus L., and silver cluster-leaf Terminalia sericea Burch. ex DC. decomposition dynamics were compared to invasive tickberry Lantana camara L. and guava Psidium guajava L., whereby phosphate, nitrate, nitrite, silicate, and ammonium releases were quantified over time. Leaf inputs significantly reduced pH, with reductions most marked by invasive L. camara. Conductivity was heightened by all leaf input treatments, except native T. sericea. Leaf inputs significantly affected all nutrient levels monitored in the water over time, except for silicate. In particular, leaf litter from invasive L. camara drove significantly increased nutrient concentrations compared to other native plant species, whilst effects of invasive P. guajava were less statistically clear. The end weights of the leaf litter demonstrated decomposition differences among the species types, following a decreasing order of P. guajava > T. sericea > F. sycomorus > L. camara, further suggesting high organic inputs from invasive L. camara. The study results highlight that differential leaf litter decomposition rates of four plant species can play a significant role in nutrient release, in turn altering aquatic ecosystem productivity. However, these effects likely depend on species-specific differences, rather than between invasive-native species generally. Shifting terrestrial plant communities may alter aquatic community composition, but specific effects are likely associated with leaf traits.