Fine root decomposition rates do not mirror those of leaf litter among temperate tree species

Sarah E Hobbie, Jacek Oleksyn, David M. Eissenstat, Peter B Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Elucidating the function of and patterns among plant traits above ground has been a major research focus, while the patterns and functioning of belowground traits remain less well understood. Even less well known is whether species differences in leaf traits and their associated biogeochemical effects are mirrored by differences in root traits and their effects. We studied fine root decomposition and N dynamics in a common garden study of 11 temperate European and North American tree species (Abies alba, Acer platanoides, Acer pseudoplatanus, Carpinus betulus, Fagussylvatica, Larix decidua, Picea abies, Pseudotsugamenziesii, Quercus robur, Quercus rubra and Tilia cordata) to determine whether leaf litter and fine root decomposition rates are correlated across species as well as which species traits influence microbial decomposition above versus below ground. Decomposition and N immobilization rates of fine roots were unrelated to those of leaf litter across species. The lack of correspondence of above- and belowground processes arose partly because the tissue traits that influenced decomposition and detritus N dynamics different for roots versus leaves, and partly because influential traits were unrelated between roots and leaves across species. For example, while high hemicellulose concentrations and thinner roots were associated with more rapid decomposition below ground, low lignin and high Ca concentrations were associated with rapid aboveground leaf decomposition. Our study suggests that among these temperate trees, species effects on C and N dynamics in decomposing fine roots and leaf litter may not reinforce each other. Thus, species differences in rates of microbially mediated decomposition may not be as large as they would be if above- and belowground processes were working in similar directions (i. e., if faster decomposition above ground corresponded to faster decomposition below ground). Our results imply that studies that focus solely on aboveground traits may obscure some of the important mechanisms by which plant species influence ecosystem processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-513
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under DEB 0128958. We thank Andrzej Jagodzinski, Piotr Karolewski, Brian Kloeppel, Megan Ogdahl, Michal Oleksyn, Mark Tjoelker, Ewa Turzanska, and Roma Zytkowiak for assistance. The experiment complies with the current Polish law.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ecosystem processes
  • Forest
  • Nitrogen dynamics
  • Plant traits
  • Species effects


Dive into the research topics of 'Fine root decomposition rates do not mirror those of leaf litter among temperate tree species'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this