Canadian Forest Service Publications

Microcosm tests of the effects of temperature and microbial species number on the decomposition of Carex aquatilis and Sphagnum fuscum litter from southern boreal peatlands. 2004. Thormann, M.N.; Bayley, S.E.; Currah, R.S. Canadian Journal of Microbiology 50(10): 793-802.

Year: 2004

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 25068

Language: English

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Increased decomposition rates in boreal peatlands with global warming might increase the release of atmospheric greenhouse gases, thereby producing a positive feedback to global warming. How temperature influences microbial decomposers is unclear. We measured in vitro rates of decomposition of senesced sedge leaves and rhizomes (Carex aquatilis), from a fen, and peat moss (Sphagnum fuscum), from a bog, at 14 and 20 °C by the three most frequently isolated fungi and bacteria from these materials. Decomposition rates of the bog litter decreased (5- to 17-fold) with elevated temperatures, and decomposition of the sedge litters was either enhanced (2- to 30-fold) or remained unaffected by elevated temperatures. The increased temperature regime always favoured fungal over bacterial decomposition rates (2- to 3-fold). Different physiological characteristics of these microbes suggest that fungi using polyphenolic polymers as a carbon source cause greater mass losses of these litters. Litter quality exerted a stronger influence on decomposition at elevated temperatures, as litter rich in nutrients decomposed more quickly than litter poorer in nutrients at higher temperatures (8.0%–25.7% for the sedge litters vs. 0.2% for the bryophyte litter). We conclude that not all peatlands may provide a positive feedback to global warming. Cautious extrapolation of our data to the ecosystem level suggests that decomposition rates in fens may increase and those in bogs may decrease under a global warming scenario.