Soil characteristics determine soil carbon and nitrogen availability during leaf litter decomposition regardless of litter quality

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo*, Pablo García-Palacios, Rubén Milla, Antonio Gallardo, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Climate and litter quality have been identified as major drivers of litter decomposition, but our knowledge of how soil characteristics (e.g. microbial community and chemical properties) determine carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) availability derived from the decomposition of litter of different qualities is still scarce. We conducted a microcosm experiment to evaluate how soils with contrasting microbial communities and soil properties (denoted Soils A and B hereafter, where Soil B has higher bacterial and fungal abundance, fungal:bacterial ratio, and organic C than Soil A) determine the availability of soil C (carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and phenols) and N (dissolved organic and inorganic N, microbial biomass N and available N) during the decomposition of litter of contrasting quality (C:N ratios ranging from 20 to 102). We also evaluated the relative importance of soil characteristics and litter quality as drivers of C and N inputs to the soil during this process. Overall, higher soil C and N availability after litter decomposition was found in Soil B than in Soil A. Soil characteristics had a higher positive effect on soil C and N contents than litter quality during litter decomposition. We also found that changes in N availability and organic matter quality registered after litter decomposition, linked to different soil characteristics, were able to promote dissimilarities in the potential mineralization rates. In conclusion, our study provides evidence that soil characteristics (e.g. microbial communities and chemical properties) can be more important than litter quality in determining soil C and equally important for N availability during the decomposition of leaf litter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-142
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Depolymerization
  • Dissolved organic N
  • Drylands
  • Litter C-to-N ratio
  • Mineralization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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