Variability of above-ground litter inputs alters soil physicochemical and biological processes: a meta-analysis of litterfall-manipulation experiments
Global change has been shown to alter the amount of above-ground litter inputs to soil greatly, which could cause substantial cascading effects on below-ground biogeochemical cycling. Despite extensive study, there is uncertainty about how changes in above-ground litter inputs affect soil carbon and nutrient turnover and transformation. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis on 70 litter-manipulation experiments in order to assess how changes in above-ground litter inputs alter soil physicochemical properties, carbon dynamics and nutrient cycles. Our results demonstrated that litter removal decreased soil respiration by 34%, microbial biomass carbon in the mineral soil by 39% and total carbon in the mineral soil by 10%, whereas litter addition increased them by 31, 26 and 10%, respectively. This suggests that greater litter inputs increase the soil carbon sink despite higher rates of carbon release and transformation. Total nitrogen and extractable inorganic nitrogen in the mineral soil decreased by 17 and 30%, respectively, under litter removal, but were not altered by litter addition. Overall, litter manipulation had a significant impact upon soil temperature and moisture, but not soil pH; litter inputs were more crucial in buffering soil temperature and moisture fluctuations in grassland than in forest. Compared to other ecosystems, tropical and subtropical forests were more sensitive to variation in litter inputs, as altered litter inputs affected the turnover and accumulation of soil carbon and nutrients more substantially over a shorter time period. Our study demonstrates that although the magnitude of responses differed greatly among ecosystems, the direction of the responses was very similar across different ecosystems. Interactions between plant productivity and below-ground biogeochemical cycling need to be taken into account to predict ecosystem responses to environmental change.