Plant litter decomposition and microbial characteristics in volcanic soils (Mt Etna, Sicily) at different stages of development

D. W. Hopkins*, L. Badalucco, L. C. English, S. M. Meli, J. A. Chudek, A. Ioppolo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Soils at different developmental stages were sampled from eight sites on the slopes of Mt Etna, Sicily (Italy) and characterized for total C, microbial biomass and microbial respiration. The values of these parameters were greatest for the most developed soils, but differences in recent management and site characteristics limited analysis of trends with soil development across the eight sites. The decomposition kinetics of both intact leaf litter and the water-insoluble fraction of leaf litter from three common species on Etna [Etnean broom (Genista aetnensis), European chestnut (Castanea sativa), and Corsican pine (Pinus nigra)] were determined in four of the soils (the two with the smallest and the two with the largest organic C contents) in a laboratory experiment over 168 days to test two hypotheses. First, that the readily mineralized fraction of added plant C is greater when the plant material decomposes in well-developed soils compared to less developed soils, and second, that the microbial communities in less developed soils are less efficient at mineralizing C from low quality plant residues. The first hypothesis held for Genista and Pinus litter, but not Castanea litter. The second hypothesis was supported for the Castanea and Pinus litter, but not for the Genista litter. Thus, the general applicability of the hypotheses was dependent on the precise source and characteristics of the litter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-469
Number of pages9
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number4
Publication statusPrint publication - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Castanea sativa
  • Decomposition
  • Genista aetnensis
  • Litter quality
  • Pinus nigra
  • Respiration


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