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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

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

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Wardle, David A. (Wardle, David)
Nanyang Technological University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

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