“Blooming” of litter-mixing effects: The role of flower and leaf litter interactions on decomposition in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
Abstract. The diversity effect on decomposition, through the litter-mixing effects, plays a central role in determining the nutrient and carbon dynamics in ecosystems. However, the litter-mixing effects are centered on a leaf litter perspective. Important aspects related to intraspecific interaction and biomass concentration are rarely evaluated, even though they could be essential to determine the litter decomposition dynamics. Here, we introduced a new perspective to evaluate whether and how the interaction between flower and leaf litter affects the occurrence, direction, and magnitude of litter-mixing effects in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. We performed laboratory experiments using flower and leaf litter from the yellow trumpet tree Tabebuia aurea (Silva Manso) Benth. & Hook. f. ex. S. Moore as a model. To obtain realistic results and a mechanistic understanding, we used different scenarios of flower:leaf litter biomass proportion and measured 13 functional traits, respectively. Litter-mixing effects were consistent in both aquatic and terrestrial environments, with faster decomposition of both litter types in mixtures compared to their monocultures (synergistic effects). Litter-mixing effects were stronger in the terrestrial environment and higher flower:leaf litter biomass proportion. Our results indicate that synergistic results are mainly associated with complementary effects. Flower litter had a higher concentration of nutrients important to decomposition, such as N, P, K, and water-holding capacity, while leaf litter had a higher concentration of Ca, Mg, and Na. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate the importance of litter-mixing effects between flower and leaf litter. This result sheds light on the secondary consequences of flower litter on decomposition, suggesting that species with high reproductive investment in flower biomass may play an important role in the nutrient and carbon recycling of diverse plant communities, exerting a pivotal role in biogeochemical dynamics.
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