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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Experimental evidence that leaf litter decomposability and flammability are decoupled across gymnosperm species

Zhang, Shudong; Cornwell, William K.; Zhao, Weiwei; van Logtestijn, Richard S. P.; Krab, Eveline J.; Aerts, Rien; Cornelissen, Johannes H. C.


Biological decomposition and wildfire are two predominant and alternative processes that can mineralize organic C in forest litter. Currently, the relationships between decomposition and fire are still poorly understood. We provide an empirical test of the hypothesized decoupling of surface litter bed decomposability and flammability, and the underlying traits and trait spectra. We employed a 41-species set of gymnosperms of very broad evolutionary and geographic spread, because of the wide range of (absent to frequent) fire regimes they are associated with. We found that the interspecific pattern of mass loss proportions in a "common garden" decomposition experiment was not correlated with any of the flammability parameters and an RDA analysis also showed that the decomposability and flammability of leaf litter in litter layers were decoupled across species. This decoupling originates from the former depending mostly on size and shape spectrum traits and the latter on PES traits and those trait spectra being virtually uncorrelated. Synthesis: Our results show that, indeed, leaf litter decomposability and flammability parameters are decoupled across species, and this decoupling can be explained by their different drivers in terms of trait spectra: chemical traits for decomposability and size-shape traits for litter layer flammability.


biogeochemical cycling; decomposition; fire ecology; flammability; leaf litter quality; leaf shape; plant functional traits

Published in

Journal of Ecology
2023, volume: 111, number: 4, pages: 761-772
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Zhang, Shudong
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Cornwell, William K.
University of New South Wales Sydney
Zhao, Weiwei
Hangzhou Normal University
van Logtestijn, Richard S. P.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment
Aerts, Rien
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Cornelissen, Johannes H. C.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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