Canadian Forest Service Publications

Can short-term litter-bag measurements predict long-term decomposition in northern forests? 2017. Moore, T.R., Trofymow, J.A., Prescott, C.E., Titus, B.D. Plant Soil 416:419–426.

Year: 2017

Available from: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 38870

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s11104-017-3228-7

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Abstract

Background and aims The litter-bag technique has become common in the estimation of the rates of decomposition, but in many cases the bags are incubated for only a short period, raising the issue of the extent to which short-term incubations represent long-term litter decomposition.We addressed this using 12 years of data from the CIDET study. Methods The CIDET study involved placement of 10 foliar litters on the soil surface and wood blocks on the soil surface and buried across temperate to subarctic Canada. Bags were retrieved 10 times over 12 years at 19 sites and the residual litter mass determined. Results A literature search revealed that 84% of published litter-bag studies in temperate-boreal-subarctic regions were of 3 years duration or less. The strength of the relationship between the mass loss after 1 year and later years at each CIDET site, expressed as the coefficient of determination (R2) among the 12 litters, decreased with length of incubation, reaching an average of only 0.4 after 12 years. The R2 value was inversely related to mean annual temperature. The single exponential model of mass remaining (k) declined with length of incubation, and the rate of decline varied among litter types and sites. For 3 litters at 19 sites, the 3- and 12-year k values were strongly related. Conclusions These results show that caution should be exercised when extrapolating short-term litter-bag studies (e.g. < 3 years), particularly in temperate climates.

Plain Language Summary

The litter-bag technique has become common in the estimation of the rates of decomposition. Such results are used to test or as input to carbon and nutrient cycling models. In many cases the bags are incubated for only a short period, raising the issue of the extent to which short-term incubations represent long-term litter decomposition. This was addressed using data from the Canadian Intersite Decomposition ExperimenT (CIDET), a study which involved the placement of litterbags with 10 foliar litters across 19 sites which were then collected 10 times over 12 years. A literature search revealed that 84% of published litter-bag studies in temperate-boreal-subarctic regions were of 3 years duration or less. The strength of the relationship between the mass loss after 1 year and later years at each CIDET site, expressed as the coefficient of determination (R2) among the 10 litters, decreased with length of incubation, reaching an average of only 0.4 after 12 years. The R2 value was inversely related to mean annual temperature. These results show that caution should be exercised when extrapolating short-term litter-bag studies (e.g. < 3 years), particularly in temperate climates.

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