Experimental evidence for the interacting effects of forest edge, moisture and soil macrofauna on leaf litter decomposition
Riutta T., Slade EM., Bebber DP., Taylor ME., Malhi Y., Riordan P., Macdonald DW., Morecroft MD.
Forest ecosystems have been widely fragmented by human land use. Fragmentation induces significant microclimatic and biological differences at the forest edge relative to the forest interior. Increased exposure to solar radiation and wind at forest edges reduces soil moisture, which in turn affects leaf litter decomposition. We investigate the effect of forest fragmentation, soil moisture, soil macrofauna and litter quality on leaf litter decomposition to test the hypothesis that decomposition will be slower at a forest edge relative to the interior and that this effect is driven by lower soil moisture at the forest edge. Experimental plots were established at Wytham Woods, UK, and an experimental watering treatment was applied in plots at the forest edge and interior. Decomposition rate was measured using litter bags of two different mesh sizes, to include or exclude invertebrate macrofauna, and containing leaf litter of two tree species: easily decomposing ash (. Fraxinus excelsior L.) and recalcitrant oak (. Quercus robur L.). The decomposition rate was moisture-limited at both sites. However, the soil was moister and decomposition for both species was faster in the forest interior than at the edge. The presence of macrofauna accelerated the decomposition rate regardless of moisture conditions, and was particularly important in the decomposition of the recalcitrant oak. However, there was no effect of the watering treatment on macrofauna species richness and abundance. This study demonstrates the effect of forest fragmentation on an important ecosystem process, providing new insights into the interacting effects of moisture conditions, litter quality, forest edge and soil macrofauna. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.