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Using plant litter decomposition as an indicator of ecosystem response to soil contamination

Abstract : The inventory and remediation of contaminated sites have emerged as top environmental priorities worldwide. A large body of evidence has accumulated to show how soil contamination affects biological communities and ecological processes. This knowledge has yet to be used for the development of indicators of soil quality that are meaningful to end-users and are easy to implement in soil quality assessment schemes. In this study, we used quantifiable measures of litter decomposition, a key biophysical process, as indicators of the ecological impact of soil contamination by trace metals and hydrocarbons. We conducted a litterbag experiment with coarse and fine mesh bags to compare highly vs. minimally contaminated sites within eight locations representative of a wide array of environmental conditions and types of pollution. Contrary to the common assumption that soil contamination hampers soil functions, idiosyncratic responses were detected for litter decomposition rate and decomposer activity metrics. A negative relationship between detritivore and microbial responses to soil contamination indicates that wherever the activity of one group of decomposers is reduced, increase in activity of the other group may ensure litter decomposition to proceed at rate similar or higher than baseline rate. This finding may indicate that compensatory dynamics in soil communities is important in determining ecosystem stability against chemical stressors. As litter decomposition may inform on the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to cope with soil contamination, it may be a useful complement to chemical soil analyses in routine soil quality assessment schemes.
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Submitted on : Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 4:32:33 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - 9:40:03 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Saturday, June 26, 2021 - 7:09:17 PM

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Antoine Lecerf, Aurélie Cébron, Franck Gilbert, Michael Danger, Hélène Roussel, et al.. Using plant litter decomposition as an indicator of ecosystem response to soil contamination. Ecological Indicators, Elsevier, 2021, 125, pp.107554. ⟨10.1016/j.ecolind.2021.107554⟩. ⟨hal-03181535⟩

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