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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Kalbitz, K; Kaiser, K; Bargholz, J; Dardenne, P: Lignin degradation controls the production of dissolved organic matter in decomposing folar litter, European Journal of Soil Science, 57(4), 504-516 (2006) [Link]
Lignin is considered to be a crucial component controlling litter decomposition but its role in the production of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from litter is not well understood. Our main objective therefore was to examine the amounts and properties of DOM produced in decomposing litter, with special emphasis on the role of lignin degradation. We exposed litter of five different tree species (Sycamore maple, Mountain ash, European beech, Norway spruce, Scots pine) in litterbags at the soil surface of two neighbouring sites to degradation under field conditions. Litterbags were sampled eight times during 27 months of exposure in the field. We determined mass loss and characterized the lignin fraction by two different methods (van Soest procedure, acid-detergent lignin: ADL, CuO oxidation). Litter was irrigated in the laboratory and leachates were analysed for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and characterized by UV and fluorescence spectroscopy. Litter decomposition followed a two-stage model characterized by initially rapid and then decreasing degradation with time. In the initial phase of litter decomposition, leached amounts of DOM decreased with time and no effects of lignin degradation were found. The contents of ADL in the litter residues and CuO oxidation products suggest larger degradation and oxidation of lignin in beech, spruce and pine litter than in maple and ash litter. The production of DOM from litter with larger lignin degradation increased in the second phase of decomposition, when mass loss exceeded 10–20%. In contrast, DOM produced from litter showing weak lignin degradation (maple, ash) did not increase further in the second phase of decomposition. In the leachates of litter with large lignin degradation (beech, spruce, pine), UV absorbance and fluorescence spectroscopy indicated a larger increase in the contribution of lignin-derived compounds to DOM with increasing mass loss than for litter species with relatively stable lignin. We conclude that degradation of lignin is an important control on DOM production during the second phase of litter decomposition.
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