Distribution of monoterpenes between organic resources in upper soil horizons under monocultures of Picea abies, Picea sitchensis and Pinus sylvestris

Katherine E. Ludley, Sue M. Jickells, Paul M. Chamberlain, Jeanette Whitaker, Clare H. Robinson

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The aim of this study was to compare the monoterpene content and distribution in litters and roots of three conifer species: Picea abies (L.) Karst, Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr. and Pinus sylvestris (L.). We analysed the monoterpene content of green needles, needle litter, F (fermentation) layer material and roots collected from monoculture plots. The rate of loss of monoterpenes from freshly fallen litter in the field was also studied at two monthly intervals over 10 months, to assess the length of time that monoterpenes entering the litter layer remain. Monoterpene analysis was carried out by extracting homogenised samples in hexane and identifying and quantifying the resulting monoterpenes using gas chromatography with flame ionisation detection (GC-FID) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Mean total monoterpene concentrations varied significantly between the three species examined (e.g. in freshly fallen litter 1531 ± 96, 100 ± 5 and 1175 ± 122 μg g-1 d. wt for P. abies, P. sitchensis and P. sylvestris); each species had distinctive and consistent monoterpene profiles associated with each type of tissue, and total monoterpene concentrations in green needles varied between individual trees of the same species, particularly for P. sitchensis. A substantial proportion of the monoterpene content of green needles remained in the needles after litter fall for P. abies (42%), P. sitchensis (11%) and P. sylvestris (30%). Although rates of monoterpene loss from needle litters varied initially (P. sylvestris > P. abies > P. sitchensis), the majority of the monoterpene content was lost after 4-6 months. Maximum monoterpene emission rates from decaying litter were calculated of 39 (P. abies), 1.7 (P. sitchensis) and 39 μg m-2 h-1 (P. sylvestris). Monoterpene concentrations in F layer material were very low (<10 μg g-1 d. wt). Roots, particularly in P. sylvestris, represented a significant pool of monoterpenes (185 ± 16, P. abies; 258 ± 54, P. sitchensis; 2133 ± 200 μg g-1 d. wt, P. sylvestris). The monoterpene profile was similar between roots and litter of P. sylvestris (α-pinene most abundant), and for P. sitchensis, (limonene and α-pinene most abundant), although a different pattern was observed between needle litter (most abundant β-pinene) and roots (most abundant myrcene) of P. abies. The relatively high concentrations and different profiles of monoterpenes characterised in upper organic soil horizons here emphasise the need for their influence on soil ecological processes to be assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1050-1059
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • Coniferous forest soil
  • Decomposition
  • Emissions
  • F horizon
  • Green needles
  • Needle litter
  • Pine
  • Pinene
  • Roots
  • Soil organic matter
  • Spruce
  • Volatile organic compound

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