Reading tea leaves worldwide: decoupled drivers of initial litter decomposition mass‐loss rate and stabilization

Sarneel, Judith M. ORCID logo ORCID: , Hefting, Mariet M., Sandén, Taru, van den Hoogen, Johan, Routh, Devin, Adhikari, Bhupendra S., Alatalo, Juha M., Aleksanyan, Alla, Althuizen, Inge H. J., Alsafran, Mohammed H. S. A., Atkins, Jeff W., Augusto, Laurent, Aurela, Mika, Azarov, Aleksej V., Barrio, Isabel C., Beier, Claus, Bejarano, María D., Benham, Sue E., Berg, Björn, Bezler, Nadezhda V., Björnsdóttir, Katrín, Bolinder, Martin A., Carbognani, Michele, Cazzolla Gatti, Roberto, Chelli, Stefano, Chistotin, Maxim V., Christiansen, Casper T., Courtois, Pascal, Crowther, Thomas W., Dechoum, Michele S., Djukic, Ika, Duddigan, Sarah, Egerton‐Warburton, Louise M., Fanin, Nicolas, Fantappiè, Maria, Fares, Silvano, Fernandes, Geraldo W., Filippova, Nina V., Fliessbach, Andreas, Fuentes, David, Godoy, Roberto, Grünwald, Thomas, Guzmán, Gema, Hawes, Joseph ORCID logo ORCID: , He, Yue, Hero, Jean‐Marc, Hess, Laura L., Hogendoorn, Katja, Høye, Toke T., Jans, Wilma W. P., Jónsdóttir, Ingibjörg S., Keller, Sabina, Kepfer‐Rojas, Sebastian, Kuz'menko, Natalya N., Larsen, Klaus S., Laudon, Hjalmar, Lembrechts, Jonas J., Li, Junhui, Limousin, Jean‐Marc, Lukin, Sergey M., Marques, Renato, Marín, César, McDaniel, Marshall D., Meek, Qi, Merzlaya, Genrietta E., Michelsen, Anders, Montagnani, Leonardo, Mueller, Peter, Murugan, Rajasekaran, Myers‐Smith, Isla H., Nolte, Stefanie, Ochoa‐Hueso, Raúl, Okafor, Bernard N., Okorkov, Vladimir V., Onipchenko, Vladimir G., Orozco, María C., Parkhurst, Tina, Peres, Carlos A., Petit Bon, Matteo, Petraglia, Alessandro, Pingel, Martin, Rebmann, Corinna, Scheffers, Brett R., Schmidt, Inger, Scholes, Mary C., Sheffer, Efrat, Shevtsova, Lyudmila K., Smith, Stuart W., Sofo, Adriano, Stevenson, Pablo R., Strouhalová, Barbora, Sundsdal, Anders, Sühs, Rafael B., Tamene, Gebretsadik, Thomas, Haydn J. D., Tolunay, Duygu, Tomaselli, Marcello, Tresch, Simon, Tucker, Dominique L., Ulyshen, Michael D., Valdecantos, Alejandro, Vandvik, Vigdis, Vanguelova, Elena I., Verheyen, Kris, Wang, Xuhui, Yahdjian, Laura, Yumashev, Xaris S. and Keuskamp, Joost A. (2024) Reading tea leaves worldwide: decoupled drivers of initial litter decomposition mass‐loss rate and stabilization. Ecology Letters, 27 (5). e14415.

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The breakdown of plant material fuels soil functioning and biodiversity. Currently, process understanding of global decomposition patterns and the drivers of such patterns are hampered by the lack of coherent large‐scale datasets. We buried 36,000 individual litterbags (tea bags) worldwide and found an overall negative correlation between initial mass‐loss rates and stabilization factors of plant‐derived carbon, using the Tea Bag Index (TBI). The stabilization factor quantifies the degree to which easy‐to‐degrade components accumulate during early‐stage decomposition (e.g. by environmental limitations). However, agriculture and an interaction between moisture and temperature led to a decoupling between initial mass‐loss rates and stabilization, notably in colder locations. Using TBI improved mass‐loss estimates of natural litter compared to models that ignored stabilization. Ignoring the transformation of dead plant material to more recalcitrant substances during early‐stage decomposition, and the environmental control of this transformation, could overestimate carbon losses during early decomposition in carbon cycle models.

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Ecology Letters
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1461-0248
Departments: Institute of Science and Environment > Forestry and Conservation
Additional Information: Joseph Hawes, Lecturer in Ecology and Conservation, Institute of Science and Environment, University of Cumbria, UK. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Depositing User: Insight Administrator
SWORD Depositor: Insight Administrator
Date Deposited: 07 May 2024 18:49
Last Modified: 07 May 2024 19:01


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