Comparison of Leaf Litter Decomposition Rates in Restored and Mature Riparian Forests on the Sacramento River, California


Address correspondence to B. D. Borders, email


One of the largest riparian restoration projects in the United States is currently taking place in California on the Sacramento River. Nearly 2,000 ha of land adjacent to the river channel have been revegetated with native riparian species in an effort to reestablish riparian forests. The objective of this study was to compare leaf litter decomposition rates in restored riparian forests to those in mature, naturally established riparian forests, in order to monitor the development of this ecosystem function in restored forests. Leaf litter decomposition rates were measured over 1 year in six restored riparian forests (4, 7, and 9 years old) and two mature remnant riparian forests (>50 years old), in order to test two hypotheses: (1) decomposition rates of restored and mature forests are significantly different and (2) decomposition rates in the chronosequence of restored forests are moving along a trajectory, approaching the decomposition rates characteristic of mature forests as they age. Statistical analyses revealed no significant differences in annual decay rates among the four different forest ages and no trajectory among leaf litter decomposition rates in restored forests. These results suggest that a functionally equivalent process of leaf litter decomposition occurs in both restored and naturally established forests and show promise for the efficiency of nutrient cycling processes in these restored forests.