Countervailing effects on pine and oak leaf litter decomposition in human-altered Mediterranean ecosystems

Efrat Sheffer*, Charles D. Canham, Jaime Kigel, Avi Perevolotsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Species affect the dynamics of litter decay through the intrinsic properties of their litter, but also by influencing the environmental conditions imposed by their canopy, roots, and litter layers. We examined how human-induced changes in the relative abundances of two dominant Mediterranean trees—Pinus halepensis and Quercus calliprinos—impact leaf litter decomposition. A reciprocal transplant experiment tested decomposition of pine, oak, and mixed leaf litter in oak woodland and pine forest ecosystems with different relative abundances of pine and oak. Using likelihood methods, we tested the importance and magnitude of the environmental effects of local species abundance, litter layer composition, and soil properties on litter mass loss. Oak litter decomposition was slower than pine, and had an antagonistic effect on mixed litter decay. These results differ from other reported pine–oak associations, and are probably associated with a higher content of tannins and phenols in oak compared to pine litter in our study sites. The environmental effects of the two species were opposite to their litter decomposition dynamics. An increased proportion of pine in the oak woodlands and a higher content of pine needles in the litter layer of pine forests reduced decay rates. The presence of more oak and broadleaf litter in the litter layer accelerated decomposition in pine forests. Our results highlight the importance of considering multidimensional species effects mediated by both chemical and physical properties, and imply that man-made changes in the composition and configuration of plant communities may result in complex unpredicted consequences to ecosystem biogeochemistry.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1039-1051
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Ecosystem function
  • Invasion
  • Mixed litter
  • Pinus halepensis
  • Quercus calliprinos


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