Plant and Soil

, Volume 404, Issue 1–2, pp 125–139 | Cite as

Root quality and decomposition environment, but not tree species richness, drive root decomposition in tropical forests

  • Nathaly R. Guerrero-RamírezEmail author
  • Dylan Craven
  • Christian Messier
  • Catherine Potvin
  • Benjamin L. Turner
  • I. Tanya Handa
Regular Article


Background and aims

Tropical forests contribute significantly to the global carbon cycle, yet the relative importance of tree diversity on key ecosystem processes such as root decomposition remains unknown.


We examined the influence of tree species richness on root decomposition over 485 days at two sites in Panama with contrasting soil fertility. Diversity effects on decomposition rates were calculated where 1) overstory tree species richness and composition matched that occurring inside root decomposition bags and 2) where roots of contrasting species richness decomposed under a common tree overstory. In addition, we tested 27 root traits to identify those that contribute to predict root decomposition in tropical forests.


Tree species richness did not affect root decomposition rates, neither when species were manipulated within bags nor with varying tree overstory richness. Root carbon quality and micronutrient concentrations such as manganese explained 47 and 81 % of the variation in decomposition rates in the fertile and infertile site, respectively, demonstrating that the relative importance of traits was modulated by the soil environment.


Our results suggest that root decomposition in tropical forests is mediated by root functional composition and the soil environment rather than by species richness.


Biodiversity experiments Belowground processes Non-additive effects Nutrient cycling Functional traits Soils 



This study was made possible due to the collaboration of members of the Sardinilla Project, the Agua Salud Project, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the Center for Forest Research (CFR). We thank Jefferson Hall for permission to work at Agua Salud and for his feedback during project development. We thank Jose Ceballos (STRI) for microscopy assistance; Jose Monteza, Santiago, Abdiel, and Lady Mancilla for field and logistical assistance (Sardinilla); Daniela Weber, Anabel Rivas and, Federico for field and logistical assistance (Agua Salud); Tania Romero, Dayana Agudo, and Luis Ramos for support in the soil lab (STRI), Bill Parsons for C, N and fibre analysis assistance (CFR) and Alain Paquette and Steven Kembel for revising earlier versions of this manuscript. This study received support from a Young Researcher’s start-up grant by the Fonds de Recherche, Nature et Technologie du Québec to ITH, NSERC Discovery grants to ITH, CM and CP and a fellowship from the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science to NGR.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_2828_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.2 mb)
ESM 1 Supplementary material (DOCX 3.19 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathaly R. Guerrero-Ramírez
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Dylan Craven
    • 2
    • 3
  • Christian Messier
    • 1
    • 4
  • Catherine Potvin
    • 5
    • 6
  • Benjamin L. Turner
    • 5
  • I. Tanya Handa
    • 1
  1. 1.Département des Sciences Biologiques, Center for Forest Research (CFR)Université du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  2. 2.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Institute for BiologyUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Département des Sciences Naturelles, ISFORTUniversité du Québec en OutaouaisGatineauCanada
  5. 5.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  6. 6.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada

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