Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Zuo, X., and J. M. H. Knops. 2018. Effects of elevated CO2, increased nitrogen deposition, and plant diversity on aboveground litter and root decomposition. Ecosphere 9(2):e02111.

doi 10.1002/ecs2.2111


Copyright: © 2018 Zuo and Knops. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License


Global change-induced litter decomposition strongly affects the carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics in grassland ecosystems. However, few studies show the interactive effects of global change factors on litter and root decomposition. We conducted a four-year grassland field experiment to examine the quality and decomposition of litter and root in a three-factorial experiment with elevated CO2, increased N deposition, and plant species richness. We found that elevated CO2 decreased the litter N content and root lignin content. N addition increased the root N content and decreased the litter lignin content. Increasing plant richness decreased the N and lignin contents in litter and root. In contrast to the quality changes, elevated CO2 had no effect on decomposition of litter and root. N addition increased the C loss of the litter by 4.8%, but did not affect C and N loss in root. Increasing plant richness affected the C and N loss in litter and root. ANCOVAs showed that tissue quality and root biomass affected the C and N loss in litter and root, and soil C and N affected the N loss of litter and root. However, changes in tissue quality, biomass, and soil as covariates did not significantly change the effects of CO2, N, and plant richness on decomposition. The structural equation model showed that elevated CO2 indirectly decreased litter N loss and increased root N loss, while N addition indirectly increased the C and N loss in litter and root, via their effects on tissue quality. Increasing plant richness increased litter C and N loss, but indirectly decreased root C and N loss. N deposition can accelerate litter and root decomposition, thus modifying the limitation of elevated CO2 on soil N availability. Biodiversity loss greatly alters litter and root decomposition, potentially driving any changes in C and N cycling. Our study clearly demonstrates a relative certainty of a predicted increase in the C loss and N release in litter and root decomposition with increased N deposition, whereas the effects of elevated CO2 and plant diversity changes on decomposition strongly differ between litter and root in grassland ecosystems.