Biodiversity Science ›› 2016, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (2): 195-204.doi: 10.17520/biods.2015149

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

Changes in soil microbial communities during litter decomposition

Shanshan Li1, 2, Zhengwen Wang1, *(), Junjie Yang1   

  1. 1 State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016
    2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049
  • Received:2015-06-03 Accepted:2015-12-23 Online:2016-03-03
  • Wang Zhengwen

Litter decomposition is an important ecosystem function, and is an indispensable process for carbon and nutrient cycling. Litter decomposition is influenced by many factors, especially soil microbial communities, which are subject to their corresponding plant communities. It is necessary to study changes in soil microbial communities during litter decomposition and how these changes respond to plant diversity in corresponding forest communities to understand the mechanisms of decomposition. In the present study, we investigated these changes and responses using a litter bag method. Our results showed: (1) After 183 days of litter bag placement, microbial diversity decreased, and there was a negative correlation between plant species diversity and microbial diversity; (2) Soil microbial communities varied before and after the placement of plant litter bags. In particular the PLFAs of fungi and bacteria after the placement of litter bags were much higher than those before the placement of litter bags; (3) Topography was the most important factor correlated with the soil microbial community, and explained 29.55% of the variation of microbial communities. In contrast, litter quality and plant diversity explained 15.39% and 8.45%, respectively, and the interaction of the three factors explained 2.97% of the variation of the microbial communities. In conclusion, we find plant diversity plays a less important role than topography in determining soil microbial diversity, and litter quality influences soil microbial communities during litter decomposition.

Key words: microbial community, topographic factor, litter decomposition rate, phospholipid fatty acids

Table 1

Design of the genetic diversity plots"

Species diversity
遗传多样性 Genetic diversity
单家系 One seed family 4家系 Four seed families
单物种 One species 单物种单家系 Mono-species & mono-family (S1G1)
32重复32 replicates
单物种4家系 Mono-species & tetra-family (S1G4)
8重复 Eight replicates
4物种 Four species 4物种单家系Tetra-species & mono-family (S4G1)
8重复 Eight replicates
4物种4家系Tetra-species & tetra-family (S4G4)
6重复Six replicates

Table 2

The initial chemical properties of seed families of Cinnamomum camphora and Daphniphyllum oldhamii (mean ± SD, n = 3)"

Seed family
Total carbon (mg/g)
Total nitrogen (mg/g)
Total phosphorus (mg/g)
C. camphora
C3 492.25 ± 27.01a 12.36 ± 1.78ab 0.97 ± 0.02a 40.59 ± 8.16ab 12.79 ± 2.07b
C4 505.41 ± 33.39a 13.24 ± 0.21a 0.70 ± 0.06b 38.19 ± 2.91b 19.11 ± 1.80a
C7 510.94 ± 23.82a 11.09 ± 0.27ab 0.76 ± 0.02b 46.05 ± 1.12ab 14.68 ± 0.13b
C9 477.45 ± 63.22a 9.86 ± 0.19b 0.70 ± 0.01b 48.44 ± 6.44a 13.99 ± 0.23b
D. oldhamii
D6 522.14 ± 17.30a 10.83 ± 0.89b 0.86 ± 0.12a 48.52 ± 5.33a 12.77 ± 1.60b
D12 533.19 ± 1.66a 11.46 ± 2.80ab 0.87 ± 0.03a 48.25 ± 10.6a 13.19 ± 2.97b
D13 527.37 ± 31.32a 13.89 ± 0.65a 0.80 ± 0.02a 38.06 ± 3.36a 17.37 ± 0.36a
D17 510.40 ± 23.74a 12.74 ± 0.95a 0.71 ± 0.01b 40.27 ± 4.55a 18.02 ± 1.06a

Fig. 1

The Shannon diversity index and Pielou evenness index of microbial communities among treatments (mean ± SE, n = 8). The code of four treatments see Table 1. The same superscripts indicate no significant difference between treatments after multiplicative comparison (P > 0.05)."

Fig. 2

All phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) identified in this experiment among all the diversity level (mean ±SE, n = 8, * P < 0.05). The code of four treatments see Table 1."

Fig. 3

The relative variation rate of PLFAs of microbial community during decomposition (mean ±SE, n = 8). The code of four treatments see Table 1. Asterisks indicate a significant rate of PLFAs, i.e. a significant deviation from 0 (* P < 0.05)"

Table 3

Result of ANOVAs between total phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) and litter quality"

Litter quality
总脂肪酸含量 Total PLFAs
d.f. F P
Initial carbon (IC)
1 0.039
Initial nitrogen (IN)
1 10.232 < 0.01
Initial phosphorus (IP)
1 14.669 < 0.01
IC/IN 1 0.572
IC/IP 1 0.434
IN/IP 1 1.362
IC/IN/IP 1 4.489 < 0.05
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