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Invasive N-fixer impacts on litter decomposition driven by changes to soil properties not litter quality

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecosystems
Issue number6
Volume20
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)1151-1163
Publication statusPublished
Early online date3/01/17
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Invasive nitrogen (N)-fixing plants often fundamentally change key ecosystem functions, particularly N-cycling. However, the consequences of this for litter decomposition, and the mechanisms that underpin ecosystem responses, remain poorly understood. Moreover, few studies have determined how nutrient pools and fluxes shift as invader density increases and whether these effects persist following invader removal, despite the importance of this for understanding the timing and magnitude of invader impacts in ecosystems. We tested how the decomposition rates of four co-occurring grass species were influenced by changes in the density of the globally invasive N-fixing shrub Cytisus scoparius L. (Scotch broom) and whether these effects persisted following invader removal. We used a series of laboratory decomposition assays to disentangle the roles of changes in both litter quality and soil properties associated with increases in broom density. Broom invasion created a soil environment, such as higher rates of net N-mineralisation, which retarded litter decomposition. Litter C/N ratios of co-occurring species decreased as broom density increased, yet this had no effect on decomposition rates. Most relationships between broom density and impacts were nonlinear; this could explain some of the reported variation in invasive species impacts across previous studies that do not account for invader density. Ecosystem properties only partially recovered following invader removal, as broom left a legacy of increased N-availability in both soils and litter. Our findings suggest that invasive N-fixer impacts on soil properties, such as N-availability, were more important than changes in litter quality in altering decomposition rates of co-occurring species.

Bibliographic note

© 2016 The Author(s). This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com