Leaf litter decomposition in urban forests: test of the home-field advantage hypothesis

The home-field advantage (HFA) hypothesis states that leaf litter decomposes faster in the habitat from which it was derived (i.e., home) than beneath a different plant species (i.e., away from home). We conducted reciprocal translocation experiments to explore the HFA effect of urban leaf litter decomposition. HFA of litter decomposition varied with species and season, and interacted with nutrient and environmental dynamics.


Although forest litterfall and subsequent decay are acknowledged as a critical factor regulating nutrient cycling, soil fertility, and ecosystem carbon budgets in natural ecosystems, they remain less understood in urban ecosystems and the evidence for HFA has not been universal. We select Beijing Olympic Forest Park (BOFP), the largest urban forest park of Asia, as a case study to explore HFA of leaf litter decomposition in urban forest ecosystems. We investigated the litterfall production, mass loss, and nutrient dynamics of two species (Robinia pseudoacacia and Pinus armandii) commonly planted in Beijing urban forest ecosystems. Variations in litterfall production were measured in R. pseudoacacia stand and P. armandii stands over 12 months. HFA of litter decomposition was explored by reciprocal leaf litter translocation experiments, and leaves were analyzed for C, N, and P during decomposition of 297 days.Two major peaks of total litterfall in R. pseudoacacia were observed, while litterfall in P. armandii followed a unimodal distribution pattern, which were similar to seasonal patterns of broadleaf and coniferous litter production in natural forest ecosystems. The loss of initial ash-free mass of R. pseudoacacia (19 %) was about twofold of P. armandii (11 %). The litter quality (e.g., initial C, N, and P) might have contributed to the differences between broadleaf and coniferous species. Leaf litter decomposition of R. pseudoacacia showed seasonal switch of HFA. In contrast, P. armandii showed a constant HFA during the whole study period.HFA of litter decomposition in urban forests varied by species and season. We found the seasonal switch of the HFA effect for R. pseudoacacia, which has not been observed in nonurban ecosystems. More observations or experiments with multiple species or mixed species across various cities are needed to understand the processes and mechanisms of litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in the urban ecosystems.

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Sun Y, Zhao S 2016. Leaf litter decomposition in urban forests: test of the home-field advantage hypothesis. Ann. For. Sci.: 1-10. 10.1007/s13595-016-0577-y.

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