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Hemiparasitic litter additions alter gross nitrogen turnover in temperate semi-natural grassland soils

Journal article
Authors A. Demey
Tobias Rütting
D. Huygens
J. Staelens
M. Hermy
K. Verheyen
P. Boeckx
Published in Soil Biology & Biochemistry
Volume 68
Pages 419-428
ISSN 0038-0717
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 419-428
Language en
Keywords Hemiparasitic plants, Litter, N transformations, Rhinanthus, Pedicularis, Semi-natural grassland, functional-role, inorganic nitrogen, root hemiparasites, microbial, biomass, mineral nutrients, parasitic plants, water relations, bartsia-alpina, decomposition, rhinanthus
Subject categories Agricultural Science


Hemiparasitic plants accumulate nutrients in their leaves and therefore produce high-quality litter with faster decomposition and nutrient release rates compared to non-parasitic litter. Higher levels of plant-available nitrogen (N) in the presence of hemiparasitic plants have been attributed to this 'litter effect', but effects on N dynamics in the soil remain unstudied. We tested the hypothesis that litter of Rhinanthus angustifolius and Pedicularis sylvatica increases N transformation rates in the soil more than non-parasitic litter of a species mix from the same communities. We expected the litter effect to be higher in the oligotrophic Pedicularis soil compared to the mesotrophic Rhinanthus soil. Gross N transformation rates were quantified using a N-15 tracing modeling approach. Differentially N-15 labeled NH4Cl + KNO3 was added to two soils with three treatments (control, soil amended with non-parasitic litter, soil amended with Rhinanthus or Pedicularis litter) in a laboratory incubation experiment. The concentration and 15N enrichment of NH4+ and NO3 in the soil were measured at six time points within one or two weeks (depending on the soil) after label addition. Hemiparasitic litter addition increased the overall cycling of N more compared to the addition of non-parasitic litter. Relative to the non-parasitic litter, addition of Rhinanthus litter increased the net flux from organic N to NH4+ by 61% and net (autotrophic) nitrification by 80%. Addition of Pedicularis litter increased the net flux from organic N to NH4+ by 28% relative to addition of non-parasitic litter, while there was no effect on nitrification. Surprisingly, gross mineralization of organic N to NH4+ decreased with litter addition for the Rhinanthus soil (control soil > nonparasitic litter > Rhinanthus litter), while it increased with litter addition in the Pedicularis soil (control soil < non-parasitic litter < Pedicularis litter). Our results support the hypothesis that litter from hemiparasitic plants increases soil N availability more than non-parasitic litter, but contradicts the expectation that the hemiparasitic litter effect would be more pronounced in an oligotrophic as compared to a mesotrophic system. This litter-induced augmentation in soil fertility provides in addition to the parasitic suppression of hosts a second potentially important pathway by which hemiparasitic plants impact on plant community composition. However, future research on P and K return via hemiparasitic litter should be considered. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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