Plant litter and livestock excreta are two important ways of carbon and nutrient input to soil in grassland grazing systems. Grazing livestock often deposit dung on plant litter, which may affect litter decomposition through a changing microenvironment. We assessed effects of yak dung on litter mixing effects on litter decomposition in a Tibetan alpine grassland. Six common species were selected, including low-quality litter species Kobresia capillifolia, Elymus nutans, and Ligularia virgaurea and high-quality litter species Anemone rivularis, Saussurea nigrescens, and Thermopsis lanceolata. Litter bags containing each species alone and all two-species combinations were allowed to decompose with and without experimental dung addition in the field. Mass loss of the leaf litter was measured after 6 and 12 mo. High-quality litter species had significantly greater mass loss than low-quality litter species. Dung significantly accelerated litter mass loss after both 6 and 12 mo for low-quality litter species, but only after 12 mo for high-quality litter species. Litter mixtures containing both high- and low-quality species showed positive nonadditive effects (NAEs) on mass loss after 6 mo but additive effects after 12 mo. Dung increased the strength of NAEs after 6 mo and shifted litter mixing effects from positive to negative NAEs after 12 mo. Our results support previous findings that litter mixing could produce NAEs on litter decomposition and that these NAEs could change with incubation time. Most importantly, we show that dung can modify NAEs, demonstrating that litter mixing effects are dependent on the microenvironment. Our findings also demonstrate that yak dung can influence soil processes by varying both single-species litter decomposition rates and litter interactions within mixtures. Furthermore, the results suggest yak dung is closely related to material and nutrient cycling, so we believe dung should remain and not be substantially removed from this grazing ecosystem.
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