Resolving the intricate role of climate in litter decomposition



Joly F, Scherer-Lorenzen M & Hättenschwiler S (2023) Resolving the intricate role of climate in litter decomposition. Nature Ecology and Evolution.

With approximately 60 Pg of carbon (C) released as CO2 annually, the decomposition of dead organic matter feeds the major terrestrial global CO2 flux to the atmosphere. Macroclimate control over this critical C flux facilitates the parametrization of the C cycle in Earth system models and the understanding of climate change effects on the global C balance. Yet, the long-standing paradigm of climate control was recently challenged by the so far underestimated environmental heterogeneity at local scales, questioning the conceptual framework of thousands of decomposition studies and accuracy of current predictive models. Using three complementary decomposition experiments at a European scale, we showed that macroclimate and litter characteristics largely control plant litter decomposition, reaffirming the role of macroclimate as an integrative decomposition driver through direct environmental control and by influencing co-evolving local plant and decomposer communities. Neglecting this latter indirect effect, commonly used standard litter types overrated micro-environmental control and failed to predict local decomposition of plot-specific litter. Our data help clarify a key question on the regulation of the global C cycle by identifying the relative role of control factors over decomposition and the scales at which they matter, and by highlighting sources of confusion in the literature.

carbon cycle; ecosystem ecology; forest ecology

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

Nature Ecology and Evolution

StatusIn Press
FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date online09/01/2023
Date accepted by journal09/11/2022
Data Location URL

People (1)


Dr Francois-Xavier Joly

Dr Francois-Xavier Joly

Lecturer in Soil, Biological and Environmental Sciences