Tree species effects on soil organic matter dynamics: The role of soil cation composition

Sarah E. Hobbie, Megan Ogdahl, Jon Chorover, Oliver A. Chadwick, Jacek Oleksyn, Roma Zytkowiak, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


We studied the influence of tree species on soil carbon and nitrogen (N) dynamics in a common garden of replicated monocultures of fourteen angiosperm and gymnosperm, broadleaf and needleleaf species in southwestern Poland. We hypothesized that species would influence soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition primarily via effects on biogeochemical recalcitrance, with species having tissues with high lignin concentrations retarding rates of decomposition in the O and A horizons. Additionally, because prior work demonstrated substantial divergence in foliar and soil base cation concentrations and soil pH among species, we hypothesized that species would influence chemical stabilization of SOM via cation bridging to mineral surfaces in the A-horizon. Our hypotheses were only partially supported: SOM decomposition and microbial biomass were unrelated to plant tissue lignin concentrations, but in the mineral horizon, were significantly negatively related to the percentage of the cation exchange complex (CEC) occupied by polyvalent acidic (hydrolyzing) cations (Al and Fe), likely because these cations stabilize SOM via cation bridging and flocculation and/or because of inhibitory effects of Al or low pH on decomposers. Percent CEC occupied by exchangeable Al and Fe was in turn related to both soil clay content (a parent material characteristic) and root Ca concentrations (a species characteristic). In contrast, species influenced soil N dynamics largely via variation in tissue N concentration. In both laboratory and in situ assays, species having high-N roots exhibited faster rates of net N mineralization and nitrification. Nitrification:mineralization ratios were greater, though, under species with high exchangeable soil Ca2+. Our results indicate that tree species contribute to variation in SOM dynamics, even in the mineral soil horizons. To our knowledge the influence of tree species on SOM decomposition via cation biogeochemistry has not been demonstrated previously, but could be important in other poorly buffered systems dominated by tree species that differ in cation nutrition or that are influenced by acidic deposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)999-1018
Number of pages20
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2007


  • Aluminum
  • Carbon
  • Decomposition
  • Microbial biomass
  • Nitrogen
  • Poland
  • Respiration
  • Soil organic matter
  • Trees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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