Decomposition of cellulose, soil organic matter and plant litter in a temperate grassland soil

D. W. Hopkins*, D. M. Ibrahim, A. G. O'donnell, R. S. Shiel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The formation of mor humus in an experimental grassland plot, which has been acidified by long-term fertiliser treatment, has been studied by comparing the rates of cellulose, soil organic matter and plant litter decay with those in an adjacent plot with near-neutral pH and mull humus. The decomposition of cellulose filter paper in litter bags of 5 mm, 1-mm and 45-μm mesh size buried at 3 to 4 cm depth the plots was followed by measuring the weight loss and changes in glucose content over a 6 month period. Soil pH was either 5.3 or 4.3. Decomposition of native soil organic matter and plant litter in soil from the same plots were followed using CO2 evolution in laboratory microcosms. Cellulose weight loss at pH 5.3 was greatest from the 5-mm mesh bags and least from the 45-um mesh bags. At pH 4.3 there was little weight loss from bags and no significant differences in weight loss between bags with different sized mesh. There was, however, a reduction in the glucose content of the hydrolysed and derivatised filter paper with time. The decomposition rate of native soil organic matter in the low pH soil was increased to that observed in the less acid soil when the pH of the former was increased from 4.3 to 5.3. The increase in decomposition rate of added plant litter in the more acid soil as a result of CA(OH)2 addition was only 60% of that observed in the soil with pH 5.3. These data support the hypothesis that the absence of soil animals and the restricted microbial decomposition in the acidic soil was responsible for mor humus formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-85
Number of pages7
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
Publication statusPrint publication - May 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • cellulose
  • decomposition
  • Key words
  • litter bags
  • microcosms
  • organic matter
  • sugar analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Decomposition of cellulose, soil organic matter and plant litter in a temperate grassland soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this