, Volume 161, Issue 2, pp 325–330 | Cite as

Fine root decay rates vary widely among lowland tropical tree species

  • James W. Raich
  • Ann E. Russell
  • Oscar Valverde-Barrantes
Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper


Prolific fine root growth coupled with small accumulations of dead fine roots indicate rapid rates of fine root production, mortality and decay in young tree plantations in lowland Costa Rica. However, published studies indicate that fine roots decay relatively slowly in tropical forests. To resolve this discrepancy, we used the intact-core technique to quantify first-year decay rates of fine roots in four single-species plantations of native tree species. We tested three hypotheses: first, that fine roots from different tree species would decay at different rates; second, that species having rapid fine root growth rates would also have rapid rates of fine root decay; and third, that differences in fine root decay among species could be explained by fine root chemistry variables previously identified as influencing decay rates. Fine roots in Virola koschnyi plantations decayed very slowly (k = 0.29 ± 0.15 year−1); those of Vochysia guatemalensis decayed seven times faster (k = 2.00 ± 0.13 year−1). Decay rates of the remaining two species, Hieronyma alchorneoides and Pentaclethra macroloba, were 1.36 and 1.28 year−1, respectively. We found a positive, marginally significant correlation between fine root decay rates and the relative growth rates of live fine roots (R = 0.93, n = 4, P = 0.072). There was a highly significant negative correlation between fine root decay and fine root lignin:N (R = 0.99, P = 0.01), which supports the use of lignin:N as a decay-controlling factor within terrestrial ecosystem models. The decay rates that we observed in this single study location encompassed the entire range of fine root decay rates previously observed in moist tropical forests, and thus suggest great potential for individual tree species to alter belowground organic matter and nutrient dynamics within a biotically rich rainforest environment.


Costa Rica Decomposition La Selva Lignin:nitrogen ratio 



We thank Matt Dornbush for constructive comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. We acknowledge also the invaluable assistance provided to us in Costa Rica by Ricardo Bedoya, Dennes Chavarría, Róger Gómez, Marlon Hernández-Obando, and Bernal, Marvin and Eduardo Paniagua. This work was funded by National Science Foundation grants DEB-0236502 and IOS-0703561 to Iowa State University, and DEB-0236512 to the Organization for Tropical Studies. All work was done in full compliance with the laws of Costa Rica.

Supplementary material

442_2009_1379_MOESM1_ESM.doc (112 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 112 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • James W. Raich
    • 1
  • Ann E. Russell
    • 2
  • Oscar Valverde-Barrantes
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal BiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesKent State UniversityKentUSA

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