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Chemical properties of plant litter in response to elevation

subarctic vegetation challenges phenolic allocation theories

Sundqvist, Maja and Wardle, David and Olofsson, Elin and Giesler, Reiner and Gundale, Michael (2012). Chemical properties of plant litter in response to elevation. Functional ecology. 26 :5 , 1090-1099
[Research article]

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1111/j.1365 - 2435.2012.0203...


Several theories predict that increasing stress (e.g. decreasing nutrient availability or decreasing temperature) should result in higher amounts of plant phenolic compounds both at the interspecific and intraspecific levels. Further, several theories predict that plant phenolics are major drivers of plantsoil feedbacks whereby they influence litter decomposition rates and the return of nutrients to plants. We investigated the potential influence of shifts in abiotic factors on litter phenolic properties using an elevational gradient in northern Sweden, for which temperature and soil fertility decline with increasing elevation. The system consists of two vegetation types: heath, (associated with low soil fertility) and meadow (associated with higher fertility), which occur across the entire gradient. We hypothesized that total phenolics, tannins and protein complexation capacity (PCC) of leaf litter would increase with elevation within and among plant species. We further hypothesized that at the whole-plot level (using community-weighted averages), these properties would be higher in heath than meadow, and that phenolic properties for meadow vegetation would show stronger responses to elevation than for heath. We measured phenolic properties in leaf litter for 13 species from both vegetation types across an established elevational gradient (500-1000m) in Swedish subarctic tundra. Contrary to our hypotheses, different species showed highly contrasting responses in their phenolic characteristics to elevation. At the across-species level, total phenolic content in litter decreased with elevation. At the whole-plot level, tannin concentrations were higher for the heath than for the meadow, whereas total phenolics and PCC did not differ. However, consistent with our hypothesis, our results showed that phenolic properties were more responsive to elevation for the meadow compared to the heath, as a consequence of greater species turnover for the meadow. Our results are inconsistent with theories predicting higher plant phenolic concentrations with increasing environmental stress or decreasing nutrient availability. They also provide evidence that across abiotic gradients in the subarctic tundra, there are large shifts in litter phenolic properties (including those that are able to complex protein) and highlight that the direction and strength of such shifts may differ greatly among vegetation types.

Authors/Creators:Sundqvist, Maja and Wardle, David and Olofsson, Elin and Giesler, Reiner and Gundale, Michael
Title:Chemical properties of plant litter in response to elevation
Subtitle:subarctic vegetation challenges phenolic allocation theories
Series Name/Journal:Functional ecology
Year of publishing :2012
Page range:1090-1099
Publisher:Wiley_Blackwell, for British Ecological Society
Publication Type:Research article
Article category:Scientific peer reviewed
Version:Accepted version
Full Text Status:Public
Subjects:(A) Swedish standard research categories 2011 > 1 Natural sciences > 106 Biological Sciences (Medical to be 3 and Agricultural to be 4) > Ecology
Keywords:elevation, phenolics, plant defense
Permanent URL:
ID Code:10243
Department:(S) > Dept. of Forest Ecology and Management
Deposited By: Professor David Wardle
Deposited On:23 Apr 2013 11:31
Metadata Last Modified:11 Feb 2016 14:45

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