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Ecology. 2010 Dec;91(12):3686-97.

The trait contribution to wood decomposition rates of 15 Neotropical tree species.

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Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The decomposition of dead wood is a critical uncertainty in models of the global carbon cycle. Despite this, relatively few studies have focused on dead wood decomposition, with a strong bias to higher latitudes. Especially the effect of interspecific variation in species traits on differences in wood decomposition rates remains unknown. In order to fill these gaps, we applied a novel method to study long-term wood decomposition of 15 tree species in a Bolivian semi-evergreen tropical moist forest. We hypothesized that interspecific differences in species traits are important drivers of variation in wood decomposition rates. Wood decomposition rates (fractional mass loss) varied between 0.01 and 0.31 yr(-1). We measured 10 different chemical, anatomical, and morphological traits for all species. The species' average traits were useful predictors of wood decomposition rates, particularly the average diameter (dbh) of the tree species (R2 = 0.41). Lignin concentration further increased the proportion of explained inter-specific variation in wood decomposition (both negative relations, cumulative R2 = 0.55), although it did not significantly explain variation in wood decomposition rates if considered alone. When dbh values of the actual dead trees sampled for decomposition rate determination were used as a predictor variable, the final model (including dead tree dbh and lignin concentration) explained even more variation in wood decomposition rates (R2 = 0.71), underlining the importance of dbh in wood decomposition. Other traits, including wood density, wood anatomical traits, macronutrient concentrations, and the amount of phenolic extractives could not significantly explain the variation in wood decomposition rates. The surprising results of this multi-species study, in which for the first time a large set of traits is explicitly linked to wood decomposition rates, merits further testing in other forest ecosystems.

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