Leaf litter traits predominantly control litter decomposition in streams worldwide

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Aim Leaf litter decomposition in freshwater ecosystems is a vital process linking ecosystem nutrient cycling, energy transfer and trophic interactions. In comparison to terrestrial ecosystems, in which researchers find that litter traits predominantly regulate litter decomposition worldwide, the dominant factors controlling its decomposition in aquatic ecosystems are still debated, with global patterns not well documented. Here, we aimed to explore general patterns and key drivers (e.g., litter traits, climate and water characteristics) of leaf litter decomposition in streams worldwide. Location Global. Time period 1977?2018. Major taxa studied Leaf litter. Methods We synthesized 1,707 records of litter decomposition in streams from 275 studies. We explored variations in decomposition rates among climate zones and tree functional types and between mesh size groups. Regressions were performed to identify the factors that played dominant roles in litter decomposition globally. Results Litter decomposition rates did not differ among tropical, temperate and cold climate zones. Decomposition rates of litter from evergreen conifer trees were much lower than those of deciduous and evergreen broadleaf trees, attributed to the low quality of litter from evergreen conifers. No significant differences were found between decomposition rates of litter from deciduous and evergreen broadleaf trees. Additionally, litter decomposition rates were much higher in coarse- than in fine-mesh bags, which controled the entrance of decomposers of different body sizes. Multiple regressions showed that litter traits (including lignin, C:N ratio) and elevation were the most important factors in regulating leaf litter decomposition. Main conclusions Litter traits predominantly control leaf litter decomposition in streams worldwide. Although further analyses are necessary to explore whether commonalities of the predominant role of litter traits in decomposition exist in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, our findings could contribute to the use of trait-based approaches in modelling the decomposition of litter in streams globally and exploring mechanisms of land?water?atmosphere carbon fluxes.