Heim A, Frey B (2004) Early stage litter decomposition rates for Swiss forests. Biogeochemistry, 70 (3): 301-315. [10.1007/s10533-003-0844-5]


carbon cycle; forest ecosystem monitoring; litter decomposition; litterbags


The decomposition of belowground and aboveground tree litter was studied on five forest sites across Switzerland, ranging from 480 to 1500 m in altitude, and including calcareous and acidic soils. In addition to decomposition of local litter types (Picea abies, Fagus sylvatica, Castanea sativa), the decomposition of a standard beech litter was studied on all sites. After 2 years of decomposition, mass loss ranged from 18 to 71% across the different sites and litter types. The lowest decomposition rates were observed for beech roots, while mass loss was greatest for both spruce needles and spruce roots at the low-altitude site. Mass loss during the first winter correlated best with the content of water-soluble substances. After 1 year of incubation, mass loss of the standard litter varied less than did mass loss of local litter, but variance increased during the second year for aboveground litter. These observations indicate a smaller climatic influence on litter breakdown at the beginning of the decomposition process. Litter mass loss could be described using an exponential model with a decay constant depending on either lignin/N ratio or Mn content of the litter and annual soil temperature and throughfall precipitation as climatic variables. Modelling the observed mass loss indicated a strong influence of litter quality in the first 2 years of decomposition, confirming the field data from the standard litter experiment. The experiment will continue for some years and is expected to yield additional data on long-term decomposition.

LWF Classification

Network: LWF, Sites: Beatenberg Bettlachstock Novaggio Schänis Vordemwald, Category: ISI,