Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

The contribution of insects to global forest deadwood decomposition

Seibold, Sebastian; Rammer, Werner; Hothorn, Torsten; Seidl, Rupert; Ulyshen, Michael D.; Lorz, Janina; Cadotte, Marc W.; Lindenmayer, David B.; Adhikari, Yagya P.; Aragon, Roxana; Bae, Soyeon; Baldrian, Petr; Varandi, Hassan Barimani; Barlow, Jos; Bassler, Claus; Beauchene, Jacques; Berenguer, Erika; Bergamin, Rodrigo S.; Birkemoe, Tone; Boros, Gergely;
Show more authors


The amount of carbon stored in deadwood is equivalent to about 8 per cent of the global forest carbon stocks(1). The decomposition of deadwood is largely governed by climate(2-5) with decomposer groups-such as microorganisms and insects-contributing to variations in the decomposition rates(2,6,7). At the global scale, the contribution of insects to the decomposition of deadwood and carbon release remains poorly understood(7). Here we present a field experiment of wood decomposition across 55 forest sites and 6 continents. We find that the deadwood decomposition rates increase with temperature, and the strongest temperature effect is found at high precipitation levels. Precipitation affects the decomposition rates negatively at low temperatures and positively at high temperatures. As a net effect-including the direct consumption by insects and indirect effects through interactions with microorganisms-insects accelerate the decomposition in tropical forests (3.9% median mass loss per year). In temperate and boreal forests, we find weak positive and negative effects with a median mass loss of 0.9 per cent and -0.1 per cent per year, respectively. Furthermore, we apply the experimentally derived decomposition function to a global map of deadwood carbon synthesized from empirical and remote-sensing data, obtaining an estimate of 10.9 +/- 3.2 petagram of carbon per year released from deadwood globally, with 93 per cent originating from tropical forests. Globally, the net effect of insects may account for 29 per cent of the carbon flux from deadwood, which suggests a functional importance of insects in the decomposition of deadwood and the carbon cycle.Multi-year field experiments across six continents suggest that insects have an important contribution to decomposition and carbon release from forest deadwood.

Published in

2021, volume: 597, number: 7874, pages: 77-81

Authors' information

Seibold, Sebastian
University of Wurzburg
Rammer, Werner
Technical University of Munich
Hothorn, Torsten
University of Zurich
Seidl, Rupert
Technical University of Munich
Ulyshen, Michael D.
United States Forest Service
Lorz, Janina
University of Wurzburg
Cadotte, Marc W.
University of Toronto
Lindenmayer, David B.
Australian National University
Adhikari, Yagya P.
University of Bayreuth
Aragon, Roxana
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET)
Bae, Soyeon
University of Wurzburg
Baldrian, Petr
Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences
Varandi, Hassan Barimani
Agr and Nat Resources Res Ctr Mazandaran
Barlow, Jos
Lancaster University
Bassler, Claus
Goethe University Frankfurt
Beauchene, Jacques
Berenguer, Erika
University of Oxford
Bergamin, Rodrigo S.
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
Birkemoe, Tone
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Boros, Gergely
Hungarian Univ Agr and Life Sci
Show more authors

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)