Legacies of plant litter on carbon and nitrogen dynamics and the role of the soil community

Yolima Carrillo, Rebecca Ball, Michael S. Strickland, Mark A. Bradford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


There is increasing awareness of the importance of ecological legacies in contemporary ecosystem processes. Decomposition is regulated by a set of interacting hierarchically organized factors. As spatial and temporal scales decrease, decomposition is largely dependent on the quality of resources and the decomposer community, but whether and how these factors manifest via historical legacy effects is not well understood. We tested whether the history of plant litter inputs had short-term legacy effects on contemporary litter and soil organic matter carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) mineralization. Using a field/laboratory microcosm approach, we exposed soils to two litters of contrasting chemistry and, after adding fresh substrates, we monitored C and N dynamics. In a parallel experiment, we manipulated the soil community to reduce litter-history impacts on its composition and size to investigate whether the soil community could be an important contributor to legacy effects We found strong short-term litter legacy effects on contemporary litter and soil N mineralization, the duration of which was dependent on the contemporary substrate for decomposition. These strong effects were not consistent with the home field advantage phenomenon, as exposure to a specific litter did not favor the decomposition of the same litter when it was applied as a contemporary substrate. Reduction of the litter-history effects on soil biota decreased the impact of litter history on N immobilization, suggesting that plant litter impacts on the soil community may be an important component of plant litter legacies on N decomposition. In contrast to N, litter legacies appeared to be much less important for C decomposition, suggesting that legacy effects might uncouple contemporary C and N dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-192
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 10 2012


  • Coupled biogeochemical cycles
  • Decomposition
  • Ecological legacies
  • Home-field advantage
  • Microarthropods
  • Soil biota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Soil Science


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