The effects of plant litter for seedling emergence and species composition in grassland and woodland communities.
Project period: 2005 -
Keywords: Community assembly, Conservation, Deciduous forest, Facilitation, Flood meadows, Galium, Germination, Inula, Litter, Peucedanum, Poa, Rumex, Seed size, Silaum, Succession, Viola, Wet meadows
Dead plant remains, i.e. litter, are an important component of biogeochemical nutrient cycles. The rate of litter degradation via decomposition has large impacts on ecosystem productivity and community composition. However, apart from these long-term effects on ecosystem processes, the accumulation of litter may also exert various short-term effects on plant communities. These may be direct, e.g. when litter acts as a physical barrier for the establishment of seedlings, or indirect through changes in abiotic conditions.
The composition of local plant communities is controlled by a series of filters that select those species from the global species pool that (i) reach the local site, (ii) tolerate the local environmental conditions and (iii) establish successful interactions with other organisms of the same or other trophic levels.
Several studies have pointed out the importance of 'after death interactions' mediated through litter on species composition and diversity. Plant litter has the potential to interfere with plant performance at various developmental stages through alteration of the chemical (nutrient availability, allelopathy) or physical environment (light availability, temperature fluctuations, water availability), through mechanical effects, i.e. acting as a barrier for initial seedling growth or by modifying biotic interactions, e.g. lowering competition and increasing insect herbivory.
In a series of experiments we tested various aspects of the potential effects of litter cover on the establishment of seedlings. In a first paper we studied the interaction effects of litter cover and soil water availability on seedling emergence of four familial pairs of floodplain species. In a second study we focused on differential effects of two litter types (grass litter and tree litter) on species originating from grasslands and woodlands and discussed possible consequences for community composition and the succession from grassland to woodland.
Alejandro Loydi was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Georg Forster Research Fellowship; 2011-2013).
Eszter Ruprecht's work was partly funded by the German Academic Exchange Servise (DAAD).
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