Leaf litter and its breakdown products represent an important input of organic matter and nutrients to mangrove sediments and adjacent coastal ecosystems. It is commonly assumed that old-grown stands with mature trees contribute more to the permanent sediment organic matter pool than younger stands. However, neither are interspecific differences in leaf decay rates taken into account in this assumption nor is our understanding of the underlying mechanisms or drivers of differences in leaf chemistry sufficient. This study examines the influence of different plant species and ontogenetic stage on the microbial decay of mangrove leaf litter. A litterbag experiment was conducted in the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, Malaysia, to monitor leaf litter mass loss, and changes in leaf litter chemistry and microbial enzyme activity. Four mangrove species of different morphologies were selected, namely the trees Rhizophora apiculata and Bruguiera parviflora, the fern Acrostichum aureum and the shrub Acanthus ilicifolius. Decay rates of mangrove leaf litter decreased from A. ilicifolius to R. apiculata to B. parviflora to A. aureum. Leaf litter mass, total phenolic content, protein precipitation capacity and phenol oxidase activity were found to decline rapidly during the early stage of decay. Leaf litter from immature plants differed from that of mature plants in total phenolic content, phenolic signature, protein precipitating capacity and protease activity. For R. apiculata, but not of the other species, leaf litter from immature plants decayed faster than the litter of mature plants. The findings of this study advance our understanding of the organic matter dynamics in mangrove stands of different compositions and ages and will, thus, prove useful in mangrove forest management.
- Extracellular enzyme activity
- Leaf chemistry
- Leaf litter
- Mangrove management
- Microbial decay