Litter quality outweighs climate as a driver of decomposition across the tundra biome

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Haydn J.D. Thomas, Isla H. Myers-Smith , Toke T. Høye, Matteo Petit Bon, Jonas Lembrechts , Eleanor R. Walker, Katrin Björnsdóttir, Isabel C Barrio, Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Susanna E. Venn, Juha Mikael Alatalo, Jennifer Baltzer, Cory Wallace, Daniel Ackerman, Laura Gough, Janet S. Prevéy, Christian Rixen, Michele Carbognani, Alessandro Petraglia, Casper T. Christiansen, David W. Inouye, Jane E. Ogilvie, Mario Trouillier, Martin Wilmking, Rachel Treharne, Sandra Angers-Blondin, Christine Urbanowicz, Jonathan von Oppen, Sonja Wipf, Paul A. Smith, Satoshi N. Suzuki, Ryo O. Suzuki, Anna-Maria Virkkala, Miska Luoto, Svetlana Serikova, Anne D. Bjorkman, Daan Blok, Elise C. Gallois, Judith M. Sarneel


Considerable uncertainty exists regarding the strength, direction and relative importance of the drivers of decomposition in the tundra biome, partly due to a lack of coordinated decomposition field studies in this remote environment. Here, we analysed 3717 incubations of two uniform litter types, green and rooibos tea, buried at 330 circum-Arctic and alpine sites to quantify the effects of temperature, moisture and litter quality on decomposition. We found a surprisingly linear positive relationship between decomposition and soil temperature across all sites, counter to theory and previous model estimates. Litter mass loss was greater at wetter sites, even where soils reached almost full water saturation. However, litter quality was the strongest driver of litter mass loss across the tundra biome, explaining six times more variation in summer decomposition than soil temperature. Our results indicate that climate warming will directly increase decomposition across tundra environments. However, the indirect effects of climate change on vegetation communities, and thus plant litter inputs and quality, could have a more profound impact than direct effects on the balance of this globally important carbon store.



Life Sciences


climate change, carbon, decomposition, Litter, Moisture, Tea Bag Index, Tundra, vegetation change


Published: 2023-03-30 10:10


CC-By Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Data and Code Availability Statement:
The code and analyses used for this study are available here:

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