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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2008

Plant species traits are the predominant control on litter decomposition rates within biomes worldwide

Cornwell, William K.; Cornelissen, Johannes H. C.; Amatangelo, Kathryn; Dorrepaal, Ellen; Eviner, Valerie T.; Godoy, Oscar; Hobbie, Sarah E.; Hoorens, Bart; Kurokawa, Hiroko; Perez-Harguindeguy, Natalia; Quested, Helen M.; Santiago, Louis S.; Wardle, David A.; Wright, Ian J.; Aerts, Rien; Allison, Steven D.; van Bodegom, Peter; Brovkin, Victor; Chatain, Alex; Callaghan, Terry V.;
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Worldwide decomposition rates depend both on climate and the legacy of plant functional traits as litter quality. To quantify the degree to which functional differentiation among species affects their litter decomposition rates, we brought together leaf trait and litter mass loss data for 818 species from 66 decomposition experiments on six continents. We show that: (i) the magnitude of species-driven differences is much larger than previously thought and greater than climate-driven variation; (ii) the decomposability of a species' litter is consistently correlated with that species' ecological strategy within different ecosystems globally, representing a new connection between whole plant carbon strategy and biogeochemical cycling. This connection between plant strategies and decomposability is crucial for both understanding vegetation-soil feedbacks, and for improving forecasts of the global carbon cycle.


carbon cycling; decomposition; leaf economic spectrum; leaf traits; meta-analysis

Published in

Ecology Letters
2008, Volume: 11, number: 10, pages: 1065-1071

      SLU Authors

    • Wardle, David

      • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
      • Landcare Research

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

    Publication Identifiers


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