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Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 231–241 | Cite as

Leaf litter decomposition in a tropical peat swamp forest in Peninsular Malaysia

  • Catherine M. Yule
  • Lalita N. Gomez
Original Paper

Abstract

It has long been assumed that the peat underlying tropical peat swamp forests accumulates because the extreme conditions (water logged, nutrient poor, anaerobic and acidic—pH 2.9–3.5) impede microbial activity. Litterbag studies in a tropical Malaysian peat swamp (North Selangor peat swamp forest) showed that although the sclerophyllous, toxic leaves of endemic peat forest plants (Macaranga pruinosa, Campnosperma coriaceum, Pandanus atrocarpus, Stenochlaena palustris) were barely decomposed by bacteria and fungi (decay rates of only 0.0006–0.0016 k day−1), leaves of M. tanarius, a secondary forest species were almost completely decomposed (decay rates of 0.0047–0.005 k day−1) after 1 year. Thus it is intrinsic properties of the leaves (that are adaptations to deter herbivory in the nutrient poor environment) that impede microbial breakdown. The water of the peat swamp was very high in dissolved organic carbon (70–84 mg l−1 DOC). Laboratory studies revealed initial rapid leaching of DOC from leaves (up to 1,720 mg l−1 from 4 g of leaves in 7 days), but the DOC levels then fell rapidly. The leaching of DOC resulted in weight loss but the physical structure of the leaves remained intact. It is suggested that the DOC is used as a substrate for microbial growth hence lowering the concentration of DOC in the water and transferring energy from the leaves to other trophic levels. This would explain how nutrient poor tropical peatswamps support diverse, abundant flora and fauna despite low nutrient levels and lack of rapid litter cycling such as occurs in other types of tropical rainforests.

Keywords

Dissolved organic carbon Leaf litter breakdown Malaysia Tropical peat swamp 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Kian Yong Tan, Marena Rajeevan and Carol Ng (all of Monash University) for field and laboratory assistance, Charles Clarke (Monash University) for help with statistics, Matthias Wantzen (University of Konstanz, Germany) for analysis of procanthocyanadins, Tse Yuen Lim (Monash University) for chemical analyses of peat swamp leaves, and Alison Lewis (University of Melbourne) for mathematical help. Finally, we are grateful to Luz Boyero (James Cook University) for her helpful review of the manuscript. This study was part of the MSc research conducted by Lalita Gomez and was funded by Monash University.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of ScienceMonash UniversitySelangorMalaysia

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