Plant litter decomposition is one of the most important links connecting plants to the soil through the carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles. Climate change scenarios predict changes in precipitation and N deposition, and previous studies have demonstrated that increases in the availability of water and N affect the litter decomposition rate and nutrient release. We studied the effects of increased N deposition and precipitation on changes in the remaining mass and the C and N contents of shoot litter after decomposition in a typical steppe in Inner Mongolia, China. The treatments included the addition of NH4NO3 at rates equivalent to 0, 25, 50, and 100 kg·N·ha-2yr-1 with and without added water. The addition of water proved to be a more effective practice than amendment with NH4NO3 for improving the litter decomposition rate; the addition of water significantly increased the rate of litter decomposition (P < 0.001), whereas the addition of N alone had no apparent effect on litter mass loss. However, a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed that the interaction of water and N significantly affected both mass loss and litter N content (P < 0.05), and a linear relationship was identified between litter mass loss and litter decomposition time (P < 0.001). No correlation was found between litter mass loss and organic C content, but a significant positive correlation was found between residual litter mass and N content (P < 0.01). Although the study was conducted over a relatively short period, our results indicate that increased precipitation could potentially promote litter decomposition, whereas increased N input has little effect. The effects of time on litter mass loss and residual C and N concentrations indicate the need for long-term trials that measure the complete process of litter decomposition and the peaks of C and N release.
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Vol. 71 • No. 2