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Chemical properties of plant litter in response to elevation: subarctic vegetation challenges phenolic allocation theories
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. (Arcum)
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2012 (English)In: Functional Ecology, ISSN 0269-8463, E-ISSN 1365-2435, Vol. 26, no 5, 1090-1099 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Several theories predict that increasing stress (e.g. decreasing nutrient availability or decreasing temperature) should result in higher amounts of plant phenolic compounds both at the interspecific and intraspecific levels. Further, several theories predict that plant phenolics are major drivers of plantsoil feedbacks whereby they influence litter decomposition rates and the return of nutrients to plants. We investigated the potential influence of shifts in abiotic factors on litter phenolic properties using an elevational gradient in northern Sweden, for which temperature and soil fertility decline with increasing elevation. The system consists of two vegetation types: heath, (associated with low soil fertility) and meadow (associated with higher fertility), which occur across the entire gradient. We hypothesized that total phenolics, tannins and protein complexation capacity (PCC) of leaf litter would increase with elevation within and among plant species. We further hypothesized that at the whole-plot level (using community-weighted averages), these properties would be higher in heath than meadow, and that phenolic properties for meadow vegetation would show stronger responses to elevation than for heath. We measured phenolic properties in leaf litter for 13 species from both vegetation types across an established elevational gradient (500-1000m) in Swedish subarctic tundra. Contrary to our hypotheses, different species showed highly contrasting responses in their phenolic characteristics to elevation. At the across-species level, total phenolic content in litter decreased with elevation. At the whole-plot level, tannin concentrations were higher for the heath than for the meadow, whereas total phenolics and PCC did not differ. However, consistent with our hypothesis, our results showed that phenolic properties were more responsive to elevation for the meadow compared to the heath, as a consequence of greater species turnover for the meadow. Our results are inconsistent with theories predicting higher plant phenolic concentrations with increasing environmental stress or decreasing nutrient availability. They also provide evidence that across abiotic gradients in the subarctic tundra, there are large shifts in litter phenolic properties (including those that are able to complex protein) and highlight that the direction and strength of such shifts may differ greatly among vegetation types.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Vol. 26, no 5, 1090-1099 p.
Keyword [en]
carbon nutrient balance hypothesis, condensed tannins, decomposition, litter chemistry, litter feedback, plant defence theory, protein complexation capacity, tundra
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-64121DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2012.02034.xISI: 000309391500011OAI: diva2:588342
Available from: 2013-01-15 Created: 2013-01-15 Last updated: 2016-05-17Bibliographically approved

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Sundqvist, Maja K.Giesler, Reiner
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