Genotypic variability in Populus tremula L. affects how anthropogenic nitrogen enrichment influences litter decomposition
Plant Soil 2016, 410(1-2):467-481

Bandau F, Albrectsen BR, Julkunen-Tiitto R, Gundale MJ

Background and aims
Boreal forests can receive substantial nitrogen (N) enrichment via atmospheric N deposition and industrial forest fertilization. While it is known that N enrichment can impact ecosystem properties, such as litter decomposition, it remains poorly understood how genetic variability within plant species modifies these impacts.
We grew replicates of ten Populus tremula L. genotypes (GTs) under 3 N conditions; ambient, and levels representing atmospheric N deposition and industrial forest fertilization. We measured leaf and litter physical and chemical traits, and conducted a litter decomposition assay.
Leaf traits varied due to N treatment, GT, and constitutive tannin levels. Leaf traits were in some cases correlated with litter traits, and decomposition was influenced by single and interactive effects of N and GT. Nitrogen addition unexpectedly decelerated decomposition, potentially due to changes in specific leaf area (SLA). Variation in decomposition rates among the GTs was best explained by their differences in SLA, and lignin:N ratio. Nitrogen addition also caused a shift in which traits most strongly influenced decomposition.
Our findings highlight that the considerable diversity present in tree species can have a strong influence on ecosystem processes, such as decomposition, and how these processes respond to environmental change.

E-link to publication