Determinants of the pathways of litter chemical decomposition in a tropical region

Parsons, Scott A., Congdon, Robert A., and Lawler, Ivan R. (2014) Determinants of the pathways of litter chemical decomposition in a tropical region. New Phytologist, 203 (3). pp. 873-882.

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• Litter decomposition is a key ecosystem process, yet our understanding of the drivers in chemical changes in leaves during decay is limited. Our aim was to determine the comparative differences (chemical divergence or convergence) between sites and the drivers of decay pathways.

• We used the litterbag method ('in situ' litterfall and standardized 'control' leaves) in Australian tropical rainforests and near-infrared spectrometry to show the chemical pathways during decomposition (c. 360 d; 12 control sites; 17 in situ sites). Chemical convergence/divergence was determined from spectral dissimilarity and quantile regression along a mass loss moving average. The influence of environment (climate and soil) and litter quality on decay pathways was determined between sites using correlation analysis.

• Throughout the region, litter composition in both treatments converged chemically during decay. However, divergent chemical pathways were shown for some samples/sites (especially with high initial lignin, phenolics and carbon (C), poor soil phosphorus (P), sodium (Na) and more seasonal moisture), and the diversity of decay residues increased with mass loss despite overall chemical convergence.

• Our study suggests that there is general chemical convergence of leaf litter during early decay, but also that divergent chemical pathways occur in locations that experience more intense seasonal drying, and contain species or conditions that promote poor-quality litter.

Item ID: 37026
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1469-8137
Keywords: chemical pathways; climate change; decomposition; litter quality; plant litter; soil organic matter; tropical rainforest
Funders: School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University (JCU), James Cook University Research Advancement Program, Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility (MTSRF), Skyrail Rainforest Institute , Earthwatch Institute
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2015 02:38
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050102 Ecosystem Function @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0607 Plant Biology > 060799 Plant Biology not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961306 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas in Forest and Woodlands Environments @ 100%
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