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Can the impact of canopy trees on soil and understory be altered using litter additions?
Ecological Applications  (IF4.657),  Pub Date : 2021-10-17, DOI: 10.1002/eap.2477
Stephanie G. Yelenik, Evan M. Rehm, Carla M. D'Antonio

Trees can have large effects on soil nutrients in ways that alter succession, particularly in the case of nitrogen-(N)-fixing trees. In Hawaiʻi, forest restoration relies heavily on use of a native N-fixing tree, Acacia koa (koa), but this species increases soil-available N and likely facilitates competitive dominance of exotic pasture grasses. In contrast, Metrosideros polymorpha (‘ōhi‘a), the dominant native tree in Hawaiʻi, is less often planted because it is slow growing; yet it is typically associated with lower soil N and grass biomass, and greater native understory recruitment. We experimentally tested whether it is possible to reverse high soil N under koa by adding ‘ōhi‘a litter, using additions of koa litter or no litter as controls, over 2.5 yr. We then quantified natural litterfall and decomposition rates of ‘ōhi‘a and koa litter to place litter additions in perspective. Finally, we quantified whether litter additions altered grass biomass and if this had effects on native outplants. Adding ‘ōhi‘a litter increased soil carbon, but increased rather than decreased inorganic soil N pools. Contrary to expectations, koa litter decomposed more slowly than ‘ōhi‘a, although it released more N per unit of litter. We saw no reduction in grass biomass due to ‘ōhi‘a litter addition, and no change in native outplanted understory survival or growth. We conclude that the high N soil conditions under koa are difficult to reverse. However, we also found that outplanted native woody species were able to decrease exotic grass biomass over time, regardless of the litter environment, making this a better strategy for lowering exotic species impacts.