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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Bryosphere Loss Impairs Litter Decomposition Consistently Across Moss Species, Litter Types, and Micro-Arthropod Abundance

Grau-Andres, Roger; Wardle, David A.; Kardol, Paul


The bryosphere (that is, ground mosses and their associated biota) is a key driver of nutrient and carbon dynamics in many terrestrial ecosystems, in part because it regulates litter decomposition. However, we have a poor understanding of how litter decomposition responds to changes in the bryosphere, including changes in bryosphere cover, moss species, and bryosphere-associated biota. Specifically, the contribution of micro-arthropods to litter decomposition in the bryosphere is unclear. Here, we used a 16-month litterbag field experiment in two boreal forests to investigate bryosphere effects on litter decomposition rates among two moss species (Pleurozium schreberi and Hylocomium splendens), and two litter types (higher-quality Betula pendula litter and lower-quality P. schreberi litter). Additionally, we counted all micro-arthropods in the litterbags and identified them to functional groups. We found that bryosphere removal reduced litter decomposition rates by 28% and micro-arthropod abundance by 29% and led to a colder micro-climate. Litter decomposition rates and micro-arthropod abundance were uncorrelated overall, but were positively correlated in B. pendula litterbags. Bryosphere effects on litter decomposition rates were consistent across moss species, litter types, and micro-arthropod abundances and community compositions. These findings suggest that micro-arthropods play a minor role in litter decomposition in the boreal forest floor, suggesting that other factors (for example, micro-climate, nutrient availability) likely drive the positive effect of the bryosphere on decomposition rates. Our results point to a substantial and consistent impairment of litter decomposition in response to loss of moss cover, which could have important implications for nutrient and carbon cycling in moss-dominated ecosystems.


collembola; mites; moss; litter mass loss; litterbag; litter quality; meso-fauna; boreal forest; Pleurozium schreberi; Hylocomium splendens

Published in

2021, Volume: 25, number: 7, pages: 1542-1554
Publisher: SPRINGER