Ecological Research

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 1113–1120 | Cite as

Effects of microclimate, litter type, and mesh size on leaf litter decomposition along an elevation gradient in the Wuyi Mountains, China

  • Shaojun Wang
  • Honghua Ruan
  • Yong Han
Original Article


Litter decomposition is an important ecosystem process regulated by both biotic factors (e.g., decomposers and litter types) and abiotic factors (e.g., temperature and moisture). This study examined the regulatory effects of soil fauna and microclimate on decomposition of two substrates (Castanopsis carlesii and Pinus taiwanensis) along an elevation gradient in four ecosystems of zonal vegetation types in southeastern China: evergreen broadleaf forest (EVB), coniferous forest (COF), dwarf forest (DWF), and alpine meadow (ALM). Our objective was to identify the mechanisms by which microclimate, substrate, and fauna control litter decomposition, especially where variations in ecosystem structure and environment are markedly shown across an elevation gradient. The hypotheses were as follows: (1) litter decomposition within the same litter type would decrease across the elevation gradient, (2) litter decomposition would be lower in poorer nutrient quality substrate across the four sites, and (3) litter dynamics, influenced by strong interactions among ecosystem type, litter type, and decomposers, would vary by elevation gradient due to microclimate effects (i.e., temperature and moisture). The decomposition rates of C. carlesii were significantly higher than those of P. taiwanensis at EVB, COF, and DWF sites; however, they were not significantly different at the ALM site. Low elevation forests possessed a microclimate (warm and humid) that favors decomposer activities and also appeared to possess a decomposer community adapted to consuming large amounts of leaf litter, as indicated by the rapid leaf litter loss. Litter decomposition in micro-mesh bags proceeded more slowly compared to litter in meso-mesh and macro-mesh litterbags across the elevation gradient, indicating that restricting some detritivore access to litter reduced litter mass loss. We suggest that microclimate and faunal contributions to plant litter decomposition differ markedly across the ecosystems in the Wuyi Mountains.


Subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest Substrate Elevation gradient Litter decomposition Microclimate Faunal decomposer Wuyi National Nature Reserve 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation of China (30670313), Public Science Program in Forestry (200804006; 200704005/wb02), and Key Subject Foundation of Ecology in Southwest Forestry University (XKX200902). We thank members of the project at the Wuyi National Nature Reserve, including Jiashe Wang, Zikun Xu, Xiangen Xu, and Yan Zhou for their assistance. The Organization for Wuyi Mountains Studies facilitated the work at Wuyi National Nature Reserve and provided help with processing the necessary permits.


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southwest Forestry UniversityKunmingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Forestry Ecological Engineering of Jiangsu ProvinceNanjing Forestry UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China

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