Plant species traits are the predominant control on litter decomposition rates within biomes worldwide

Authors

  • William K. Cornwell,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Johannes H. C. Cornelissen,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Kathryn Amatangelo,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
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  • Ellen Dorrepaal,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Valerie T. Eviner,

    1. Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8780 USA
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  • Oscar Godoy,

    1. Facultad de Ciencias, Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
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  • Sarah E. Hobbie,

    1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, 1987 Upper Buford Circle, St Paul, MN 55108, USA
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  • Bart Hoorens,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Hiroko Kurokawa,

    1. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
    2. Graduate School of Environment and Information Sciences, Yokohama National University, Hodogaya, Yokohama 240-8501, Japan
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  • Natalia Pérez-Harguindeguy,

    1. Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal, F.C.E.F.yN., Universidad Nacional de Córdoba – CONICET, CC 495, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina
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  • Helen M. Quested,

    1. Department of Botany, Stockholm University, S 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
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  • Louis S. Santiago,

    1. Botany & Plant Sciences, University of California, 2150 Batchelor Hall, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
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  • David A. Wardle,

    1. Faculty of Forestry, Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, Sweden
    2. Landcare Research, Post Office Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand
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  • Ian J. Wright,

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
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  • Rien Aerts,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Steven D. Allison,

    1. Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, 307 Steinhaus, Irvine, CA 92697, USA
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  • Peter Van Bodegom,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Victor Brovkin,

    1. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Climate Systems Research Department, P.O. Box 601203, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
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  • Alex Chatain,

    1. School of Biological Science, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia
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  • Terry V. Callaghan,

    1. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Abisko Research Station, S-981-07, Abisko, Sweden
    2. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
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  • Sandra Díaz,

    1. Graduate School of Environment and Information Sciences, Yokohama National University, Hodogaya, Yokohama 240-8501, Japan
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  • Eric Garnier,

    1. CNRS Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (UMR 5175), 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
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  • Diego E. Gurvich,

    1. Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal, F.C.E.F.yN., Universidad Nacional de Córdoba – CONICET, CC 495, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina
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  • Elena Kazakou,

    1. CNRS Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (UMR 5175), 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
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  • Julia A. Klein,

    1. Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1499, USA
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  • Jenny Read,

    1. School of Biological Science, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia
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  • Peter B. Reich,

    1. Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN 55108, USA
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  • Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia,

    1. Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Department of Systems Ecology, Institute of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    2. Faculty of Biology, Department of Geobotany, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
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  • M. Victoria Vaieretti,

    1. Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal, F.C.E.F.yN., Universidad Nacional de Córdoba – CONICET, CC 495, 5000 Córdoba, Argentina
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  • Mark Westoby

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
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*E-mail: cornwell@zoology.ubc.ca

Abstract

Worldwide decomposition rates depend both on climate and the legacy of plant functional traits as litter quality. To quantify the degree to which functional differentiation among species affects their litter decomposition rates, we brought together leaf trait and litter mass loss data for 818 species from 66 decomposition experiments on six continents. We show that: (i) the magnitude of species-driven differences is much larger than previously thought and greater than climate-driven variation; (ii) the decomposability of a species’ litter is consistently correlated with that species’ ecological strategy within different ecosystems globally, representing a new connection between whole plant carbon strategy and biogeochemical cycling. This connection between plant strategies and decomposability is crucial for both understanding vegetation–soil feedbacks, and for improving forecasts of the global carbon cycle.

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