The Decomposition of Leaf Litter in Litter Traps: Implications on Forest Biogeochemical Cycling
Corrigan, Cassie Kimberly
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This research evaluates the decomposition of leaf litter while in litter traps. More specifically this study asks, ‘Does sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.), American basswood (Tilia Americana L.) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) leaf litter collected bi-weekly from litter traps undergo a loss of dry mass and nutrient content (C, N, P, K, Ca and Mg) in comparison to freshly abscised leaf litter?’The objective of the initial experiment was to determine if sugar maple, basswood and beech leaf litter collecting in litter traps, while exposed to in-situ conditions, experienced decomposition. Results indicated that sugar maple, basswood and beech leaf litter experienced early stages of decomposition and identified precipitation, freezing temperatures and microbial activity as possible mechanisms for the observed decomposition. It was found that the dry weight of sugar maple and basswood differed significantly (p < 0.05 and p < 0.10, respectively) post- 14-day experiment period as compared to the initial dry weight. Consequently, three experiments were completed to examine the aforementioned variables. Conclusions were based on measured changes in the mass and nutrient (C, N, P, K, Ca and Mg) content of freshly abscised sugar maple, basswood and beech leaf litter under ex-situ conditions. It was found that the dry weight sugar maple and basswood leaf litter exposed to 30 mm, 60 mm and 100 mm of precipitation differed significantly (p < 0.05) as compared to freshly abscised leaf litter. In general, this research affirmed that precipitation and freezing temperature contribute to a change in mass and nutrient content of leaf litter collecting in litter traps. Furthermore, through measurable production of CO2 and Community Level Physiological Profiling it was determined that microbes are present and active on the leaf surface and contribute to the decomposition of leaf litter in litter traps.