Carbon dynamics during litter decomposition have been described in a variety of forest ecosystems and provided insights into carbon flow in soils. To quantitatively assess how decomposition processes vary between litter types, solid-state 13C cross-polarization and magic-angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance (CPMAS NMR) technique was applied to analyze conifer (cedar, cypress) and hardwood (chinquapin, beech, oak, birch) litter which had degraded during a 3 year litterbag experiment throughout Japan. The results were used to identify compositional changes and estimate decomposition constants (k values) in exponential equations. Total litter and carbon type mass losses during decomposition varied significantly between litter types, being affected by the initial physicochemical litter quality. Concomitant increases and decreases in carbonyl and O/N-alkyl C compositions, respectively, were observed for all litter types, but aromatic and aliphatic C dynamics were less consistent. In hardwoods, [aromatic/aliphatic C ratio] was generally stable during decomposition, suggesting that, in hardwoods, the decomposabilities of aromatic and aliphatic C were similar. In the conifers, an increasing [aromatic/aliphatic C ratio] during decomposition suggested that aromatic C was more recalcitrant than aliphatic C. These results suggest that different decomposition processes between litter types might be related to different aromatic and aliphatic C behaviors, as affected by lignin stability and lipid leachability and biosynthesis. Variations in the k values for total litter and carbon types were not obvious between litter types, although the mass loss patterns differed significantly. The k values estimated in this study may contribute to predictions of soil carbon dynamics and the validation of carbon compartment models in forest ecosystems.
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