Abstract: Soil organic carbon (SOC) is the largest terrestrial organic carbon pool. Plant litter is an important source of SOC, but the knowledge gap between SOC fractions and plant litter input remains inconsistent. Here, a litter input control experiment was conducted at three subalpine forest types (coniferous forest, mixed forest, and broadleaved forest). We assessed the variations of total organic C, active organic C (easily oxidizable C, labile organic C), recalcitrant organic C, and microbial biomass C under litter input or removal. The results showed that soil total organic C decreased greatly under litter input. It was mainly caused by the change of easily oxidizable C and labile C, while the influence of recalcitrant C was small. At the same time, this effect varied among different forest types. Among them, the effect of litter input on SOC was weak and slow in the coniferous forest with low‐quality litter input, while a quick effect was observed in the mixed and broadleaved forests with high‐quality litter input. Microbial biomass C declined under litter input in most cases, and its variation was strongly controlled by soil temperature and freeze‐thaw events. Overall, our results provide new evidence that forest type would strongly control SOC dynamics, in concert with litter quality shifts, with potential consequences for long‐term C sequestration. We highlighted that litter input could reduce microbial biomass carbon which might limit the native SOC decomposition, but the loss of active C ultimately changed the SOC in the subalpine forests. It suggested that the interaction of multiple mechanisms should be considered in the study of SOC in this region.
Keywords: litter input; soil organic carbon; active SOC pool; recalcitrant SOC pool; microbial biomass carbon; subalpine forest