, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 457–471

Patterns in decomposition rates among photosynthetic organisms: the importance of detritus C:N:P content


  • S. Enríquez
    • Centro de Estudios Avanzados de BlanesCSIC
  • C. M. Duarte
    • Centro de Estudios Avanzados de BlanesCSIC
  • K. Sand-Jensen
    • Freshwater Biological LaboratoryUniversity of Copenhagen
Review Article

DOI: 10.1007/BF00566960

Cite this article as:
Enríquez, S., Duarte, C.M. & Sand-Jensen, K. Oecologia (1993) 94: 457. doi:10.1007/BF00566960


The strength and generality of the relationship between decomposition rates and detritus carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations was assessed by comparing published reports of decomposition rates of detritus of photosynthetic organisms, from unicellular algae to trees. The results obtained demonstrated the existence of a general positive, linear relationship between plant decomposition rates and nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations. Differences in the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations of plant detritus accounted for 89% of the variance in plant decomposition rates of detritus orginating from photosynthetic organisms ranging from unicellular microalgae to trees. The results also demonstrate that moist plant material decomposes substantially faster than dry material with similar nutrient concentrations. Consideration of lignin, instead of carbon, concentrations did not improve the relationships obtained. These results reflect the coupling of phosphorus and nitrogen in the basic biochemical processes of both plants and their microbial decomposers, and stress the importance of this coupling for carbon and nutrient flow in ecosystems.

Key words

DecompositionPlant kingdomNutrients

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993