Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Litter nitrogen concentration changes mediate effects of drought and plant species richness on litter decomposition.

Abstract

Biodiversity loss, exotic plant invasion and climatic change are three important global changes that can affect litter decomposition. These effects may be interactive and these global changes thus need to be considered simultaneously. Here, we assembled herbaceous plant communities with five species richness levels (1, 2, 4, 8 or 16) and subjected them to a drought treatment (no, moderate or intensive drought) that was factorially combined with an invasion treatment (presence or absence of the non-native Symphyotrichum subulatum). We collected litter of these plant communities and let it decompose for 9 months in the plant communities from which it originated. Drought decreased litter decomposition, while invasion by S. subulatum had little impact. Increasing species richness decreased litter decomposition except under intensive drought. A structural equation model showed that drought and species richness affected litter decomposition indirectly through changes in litter nitrogen concentration rather than by altering quantity and diversity of soil meso-fauna or soil physico-chemical properties. The slowed litter decomposition under high species diversity originated from a sampling effect, specifically from low litter nitrogen concentrations in the two dominant species. We conclude that effects on litter decomposition rates that are mediated by changing concentrations of the limiting nutrient in litter need to be considered when predicting effects of global changes such as plant diversity loss.