Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 15, Issue 8, pp 1633–1641 | Cite as

Stabilization versus decomposition in alpine ecosystems of the Northwestern Caucasus: The results of a tea bag burial experiment

  • Tatiana G. ElumeevaEmail author
  • Vladimir G. Onipchenko
  • Asem A. Akhmetzhanova
  • Mikhail I. Makarov
  • Joost A. Keuskamp


Mountainous areas exhibit highly variable decomposition rates as a result of strong local differences in climate and vegetation type. This paper describes the effect of these factors on two major determinants of the local carbon cycle: litter decomposition and carbon stabilization. In order to adequately reflect local heterogeneity, we have sampled 12 typical plant communities of the Russian Caucasus. In order to minimize confounding effects and encourage comparative studies, we have adapted the widely used tea bag index (TBI) that is typically used in areas with low decomposition. By incubating standardized tea litter for a year, we investigated whether (1) initial litter decomposition rate (k) is negatively correlated with litter stabilization (S) and (2) whether k or S exhibit correlations with altitude and other environmental conditions. Our results show that S and k are not correlated. Altitude, pH, and water content significantly influenced the stabilization factor S, while soil-freezing had no influence. In contrast, none of these factors predicted the decomposition rate k. Based on our data, we argue that collection of decomposition rates alone, as is now common practice, is not sufficient to understand carbon input to soils and can potentially lead to misleading results. Our data on community-specific decomposition and stabilization rates further constrain estimates of litter accumulation in subalpine communities and the potential effects of climate change.


Litter decomposition Alpine communities Tea bag index Carbon cycle 


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The study was supported by Russian Science Foundation (RSF), grant № 16-14-10208. We thank S.V. Dudov for preparing of Figure 1 in supplementary materials.

Supplementary material

11629_2018_4960_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (231 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 231 KB.


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geobotany, Biological FacultyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Department of General Soil Science, Faculty of Soil ScienceLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  3. 3.Ecology & Biodiversity GroupUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)WageningenThe Netherlands

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