Biology: The Dynamic Science (Mind...

4th Edition
Peter J. Russell + 2 others
ISBN: 9781305389892



Biology: The Dynamic Science (Mind...

4th Edition
Peter J. Russell + 2 others
ISBN: 9781305389892
Textbook Problem

Numerous studies have shown that the particular plant species growing in a soil influence the soil’s chemical properties. With this in mind, in the study of Colorado mountain soil mentioned in Section 35.2, the researchers expected to find differences in the study area’s soil chemistry depending on which of the three main tree species—trembling aspen (Populustremuloides), lodgepole pine (Pinuscontorta), or Engelmann spruce (Piceaengelmannii)—was dominant at a particular site. One factor that affects soil chemistry is the chemical composition of the leaf litter that falls to the ground and decomposes. The Table that follows shows values for leaf litter composition as a function of the litter’s nitrogen, carbon, cellulose, and lignin content. For each species it also shows the biomass of fine roots (less than 1 mm diameter) and coarse roots (more than 1 mm diameter) in the upper 10 cm of soil.

Overall, how does the ratio of lignin to nitrogen in leaf litter seem to correlate with total litter nitrogen content?

TABLE Leaf Litter Quality and Root Biomass of Tree Species in a High-Elevation Forest in Colorado
Litter N (%) Litter C (%) Litter C:N Litter Cellulose (%) Litter Lignin (%) Litter Lignin:N Fine Root Biomass (g/m2) Coarse Root Biomass (g/m2)
Aspen 0.84±0.08 49.4±0.4 60.4±5.2 42.1±3.0 20.2±2.2 24.1±1.2 321±47 422±134
Pine 0.47±0.03 52.0±0.3 112.1±8.3 59.0±1.0 33.8±0.5 73.2±5.7 215±25 232±87
Spruce 0.41±0.01 48.7±0.1 118.3±4.2 41.1±1.1 19.2±0.7 46.6±1.7 249±28 319±62

Source: Adapted from E. Ayres et al. 2009. Tree species traits influence soil physical, chemical, and biological properties in high elevation forests. PLoS ONE 4(6):e5964.

Summary Introduction

To review:

The ratio of lignin to nitrogen in leaf litter seems to correlate with total litter nitrogen content.


Plants require essential nutrients in the form of macronutrients (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen) and macronutrients (zinc, chlorine, copper, iron, and manganese). They are required for the formation of some of the key structural components of plants.


Lignin forms the important component in the cell wall of woody plants. The ratio of lignin to nitrogen can be calculated by dividing the percentage of lignin with the percentage of nitrogen.

Percentage of litter lignin (%)Percentage of litter nitrogen (%)

The ratio of lignin to nitrogen in the aspen tree is 20.2/0.84=24

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