Climatic factors have long been considered predominant in controlling decomposition rates at large spatial scales. However, recent research suggests that edaphic factors and plant functional traits may play a more important role than previously expected. In this study, we investigated how biotic and abiotic factors interacted with litter quality by analyzing decomposition rates for two forms of standardized litter substitutes: green tea (high-quality litter) and red tea (low-quality litter). We placed 1188 teabags at two different positions (forest floor and 8 cm deep) across 99 forest sites in France and measured 46 potential drivers at each site. We found that high-quality litter decomposition was strongly related to climatic factors, whereas low-quality litter decomposition was strongly related to edaphic factors and the identity of the dominant tree species in the stand. This indicates that the relative importance of climate, soil and plant functional traits in the litter decomposition process depends on litter quality, which was the predominant factor controlling decomposition rate in this experiment. We also found that burying litter increased decomposition rates, and that this effect was more important for green tea in drier environments. This suggests that changes in position (surface vs. buried) at the plot scale may be as important as the role of macroclimate on decomposition rates because of varying water availability along the soil profile. Acknowledging that the effect of climate on decomposition depends on litter quality and that the macroclimate is not necessarily the predominant factor at large spatial scales is the first step toward identifying the factors regulating decomposition rates from the local scale to the global scale.
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The data used in this manuscript were submitted to the TBI database that will be published online on www.teatime4science.org after publication of the meta-analysis. It was given file number 136 in this database. Until publication on this platform, the data can be obtained by emailing the corresponding author or the TBI team.
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We thank all the foresters from the ‘Office National des Forêts’ for their assistance in the field throughout the course of the experiment and the numerous laboratory assistants for preparing the tea bags after harvest. We thank Victoria Moore for her help with English and useful remarks. JMS acknowledges the Swedish Research Council VR for funding.
Funding was provided by INRA - Department of Forest, Grassland and Freshwater Ecology.
This study was conceived and designed by LA with the help of NF. LA and NF prepared the kits for the foresters. MN and SC supervised the RENECOFOR network. Laboratory data were obtained by SB with the help of NF and LA. NF analyzed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript in close consultation with LA and with significant help from JMS. All authors contributed to manuscript completion and revision.
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Fanin, N., Bezaud, S., Sarneel, J.M. et al. Relative Importance of Climate, Soil and Plant Functional Traits During the Early Decomposition Stage of Standardized Litter. Ecosystems 23, 1004–1018 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-019-00452-z
- Carbon turnover
- nutrient cycling
- plant traits
- tea bag index
- soil depth
- soil parent material
- soil properties