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Root growth and litter decomposition in a coffee plantation under shade trees

G. CUENCA, J. ARANGUREN and R. HERRERA
Plant and Soil
Vol. 71, No. 1/3, TREE ROOT SYSTEMS AND THEIR MYCORRHIZAS (1983), pp. 477-486
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42934264
Page Count: 10
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Root growth and litter decomposition in a coffee plantation under shade trees
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Abstract

In a non-fertilized coffee plantation under shade trees the root biomass was excavated to estimate its distribution in the soil profile. One third of total fine (less than 1 mm) roots was found in the first 10 cm of soil; the cumulative total to 30 cm reached 73%. A highly variable and transient amount of fine roots colonized the litter layer. Root production both in the litter and in the first 7.5 cm of mineral soil was estimated from sequential samplings and was 10g m⁻² yr⁻¹ and 660 g m⁻² yr⁻¹ respectively. The decomposition rate of weighed averages of litter fractions in the coffee plantation, calculated as the ratio of litter fall rate to the amount found in the soil was k = 4.8. Shade tree leaves, the major component of litter descomposed slower than coffee leaves and these slower than flowers and fruits. Litter bag experiments showed considerable slower rates when mesh was 0.03 mm than 0.5 mm. Nitrogen and phosphorous showed increases in concentrations as decomposition progressed while potassium, calcium and magnesium followed a decrease in concentration that paralleled that of dry weight loss. In comparing the decomposition rate for litter with or without coffee roots growing in the bags, a tendency to show faster decomposition rates was found for the treatment with roots. These differences were however, only significant for one month for shade tree leaves litter. Nitrogen amounts remaining in shade tree leaves litter was lower in the treatment with roots than without roots. Potassium concentration in roots was positively correlated with potassium concentration in decomposing leaf litter where roots were growing. These results suggest that while roots growing attached to decomposing litter had little or no effect in speeding the decomposition process, the superficial roots seem to play an important role in absorbing very efficiently the mineralized nutrients from litter. The anatomical study of roots showed that the plantation is intensely infected with V-A mycorrhiza. External mycorrhizal hyphae did not to play a role in attachment of roots to decomposing litter while root hairs were found to grow in profusion on root surfaces oriented toward litter.

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