, Volume 126, Issue 1–2, pp 115–129 | Cite as

Getting to the root of the problem: litter decomposition and peat formation in lowland Neotropical peatlands

  • Jorge Hoyos-Santillan
  • Barry H. Lomax
  • David Large
  • Benjamin L. Turner
  • Arnoud Boom
  • Omar R. Lopez
  • Sofie Sjögersten


Litter decomposition is an important control on carbon accumulation in tropical peatlands. We investigated the contribution of different litter tissues from two peatland tree species (Raphia taedigera and Campnosperma panamensis) to peat formation in four lowland tropical peatlands in the Republic of Panama. Leaves, stems, and roots decomposed at different rates; with roots being the slowest to decompose among tissues. The position of litter in the peat profile strongly influenced the decomposition rate of all tissue types. Roots decomposed up to five times faster at the surface than at 50 cm depth. Molecular characterization of litter and peat profiles by tetramethylammonium-pyrolysis–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (TMAH-Py-GC/MS) revealed that the peat is formed predominantly of decomposed roots and stems, as indicated by the high lignin, low methylated fatty acids and carbohydrate concentrations in these litter types. Taken together, these data demonstrate that roots play a fundamental role in the formation of lowland Neotropical peatlands.


Carbon Litter decomposition Root Tropical peat Pyrolysis Mass spectrometry 



Data to support this article can be made available upon request. Jorge Hoyos-Santillan thanks The National Council on Science and Technology (CONACyT-Mexico) for his Ph.D. scholarship (211962). The authors also thank the Light Hawk program for its support in the aerial surveys. We thank Erick Brown for invaluable help as field assistant; as well as Gabriel Jácome, Plinio Góndola, Tania Romero and Dayana Agudo for logistical support and laboratory assistance at the STRI. In addition, we thank John Corrie and Darren Hepworth for their help in logistics and laboratory assistance at the University of Nottingham.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorge Hoyos-Santillan
    • 1
  • Barry H. Lomax
    • 1
  • David Large
    • 2
  • Benjamin L. Turner
    • 3
  • Arnoud Boom
    • 4
  • Omar R. Lopez
    • 5
  • Sofie Sjögersten
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Agricultural and Environmental Science, School of BiosciencesThe University of NottinghamLoughboroughUK
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Environmental EngineeringThe University of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteAnconRepublic of Panama
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  5. 5.Centro de Biodiversidad y Descubrimiento de DrogasInstituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología (INDICASAT-AIP)ClaytonRepublic of Panama

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