Humus profiles were sampled along an altitudinal gradient in the Macot‐La‐Plagne Forest (France, northern Alps) to investigate variation occurring under carpets of Vaccinium myrtillus present within Picea abies forests. The vertical distribution of subterranean organs of V. myrtillus was compared with (1) that of P. abies roots and other accompanying vegetation and (2) other components of humus profiles, in particular humified organic matter mainly consisting of animal faeces. It was shown that V. myrtillus roots were mostly concentrated in mineral horizons, while P. abies roots and V. myrtillus rhizomes occupied litter horizons. This was interpreted in terms of competition for nutrient capture between P. abies and V. myrtillus. The effects of altitude were (1) a change in the vegetation accompanying V. myrtillus in dense V. myrtillus carpets, bryophytes at the montane level being replaced by forbs at the sub‐alpine level and (2) a decrease in the thickness of ecto‐organic horizons. This was interpreted as a shift from a moder system characterized by recalcitrant litter (moss) processed by an active faunal community (stabilized in the form of animal faeces) to a mor system characterized by low animal abundance but with litter of better quality which is easily leached in the absence of prominent faunal activity.
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Vol. 13 • No. 1