Is it worth hyperaccumulating Ni on non-serpentine soils? Decomposition dynamics of mixed-species litters containing hyperaccumulated Ni across serpentine and non-serpentine environments

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Background and Aims Nickel (Ni)-hyperaccumulating species produce high-Ni litters and may potentially influence important ecosystem processes such as decomposition. Although litters resembling the natural community conditions are essential in order to predict decomposition dynamics, decomposition of mixed-species litters containing hyperaccumulated Ni has never been studied. This study aims to test the effect of different litter mixtures containing hyperaccumulated Ni on decomposition and Ni release across serpentine and non-serpentine soils.

Methods Three different litter mixtures were prepared based on the relative abundance of the dominant species in three serpentine soils in the island of Lesbos, Greece where the Ni-hyperaccumulator Alyssum lesbiacum is present. Each litter mixture decomposed on its original serpentine habitat and on an adjacent non-serpentine habitat, in order to investigate whether the decomposition rates differ across the contrasted soils. In order to make comparisons across litter mixtures and to investigate whether additive or non-additive patterns of mass loss occur, a control non-serpentine site was used. Mass loss and Ni release were measured after 90, 180 and 270 d of field exposure.

Key Results The decomposition rates and Ni release had higher values on serpentine soils after all periods of field exposure. The recorded rapid release of hyperaccumulated Ni is positively related to the initial litter Ni concentration. No differences were found in the decomposition of the three different litter mixtures at the control non-serpentine site, while their patterns of mass loss were additive.

Conclusions Our results: (1) demonstrate the rapid decomposition of litters containing hyperaccumulated Ni on serpentine soils, indicating the presence of metal-tolerant decomposers; and (2) imply the selective decomposition of low-Ni parts of litters by the decomposers on non-serpentine soils. This study provides support for the elemental allelopathy hypothesis of hyperaccumulation, presenting the potential selective advantages acquired by metal-hyperaccumulating plants through litter decomposition on serpentine soils.

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