Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Becky A. Ball; Mark A. Bradford; Mark D. Hunter
    Date: 2009
    Source: Ecosystems doi: 10.1007/s10021-008-9208-2.
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    PDF: Download Publication  (553.61 KB)


    Ecosystem-level nutrient dynamics during decomposition are often estimated from litter monocultures. If species effects are additive, we can statistically predict nutrient dynamics in multispecies systems from monoculture work, and potential consequences of species loss. However, if species effects are dependent on interactions with other litter species (that is, non-additive), predictions based on monoculture data will likely be inaccurate. We conducted a 3-year, full-factorial, mixed-litter decomposition study of four dominant tree species in a temperate forest and measured nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics to explore whether nutrient dynamics in mixtures were additive or non additive. Following common approaches, we used litterfall data to predict nutrient dynamics at the ecosystem-level. In mixtures, we observed non-additive effects of litter  mixing on nutrient dynamics: the presence of nutrient-rich species in mixture facilitated nutrient release, whereas nutrient-poor species facilitated nutrient retention. Fewer nutrients were released from mixtures containing high-quality litter, and more immobilized from mixtures containing low-quality litter, than predicted from monocultures, creating a difference in overall nutrient release between predicted and actual dynamics in litter mixtures. Nutrient release at the ecosystem-level was greatly overestimated when based on monocultures because the effect of species interactions on nutrient immobilization was not accounted for. Our data illustrate that the identity of species in mixtures is key to their role in non-additive interactions, with repercussions for mineral nutrient availability and storage. These results suggest that predictions of ecosystem-level nutrient dynamics using litter monoculture data likely do not accurately represent actual dynamics because the effects of litter species interactions are not incorporated.

    Publication Notes

    • You may send email to to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Ball, Becky A.; Bradford, Mark A.; Hunter, Mark D. 2009. Nitrogen and Phosphorus release from mixed litter layers is lower than predicted from single species decay. Ecosystems. 12: 87-100. doi: 10.1007/s10021-008-9208-2.


    ecosystem function, decomposition, nutrient dynamics, litter nitrogen, litter phosphorus, litter mixtures, species diversity, species composition, species loss, biodiversity

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page