Mahaney, W. M. 2010. Plant controls on decomposition rates: The benefits of restoring abandoned agricultural lands with native prairie grasses. Plant and Soil 330:91-101.
Plant species can both directly and indirectly affect soil processes in various ways, including through functional traits related to the quantity and chemistry of biomass produced. Understanding how functional traits affect soil processes may be particularly important in restorations that specifically select a target plant community. In this study, I examined how species differing in litter traits alter decomposition, both directly via chemistry and indirectly via influences on soil microclimate. Decomposition dynamics of two old-field grasses were compared with the native prairie grass, Andropogon gerardii, in two Michigan old-fields. Decomposition rates were strongly, negatively related to tissue chemistry, but showed little effect of microclimate differences. Soil bacterial community composition differed between species at one site, while extracellular enzyme activities differed between species at the other site. These findings suggest plant species may be altering microbial community function. Overall, litter chemistry was the dominant factor determining decomposition rates, suggesting that restoring native prairie grasses with recalcitrant litter into grass-dominated old-fields could slow litter decomposition and ultimately lead to changes in soil carbon and nitrogen cycling. Eventually, this could lead to soils that more closely resemble the more organic-rich soils of native prairies and ultimately increase prairie plant community restoration success.
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