Skip to main content

Soil warming accelerates decomposition of fine woody debris


Minda Berbeco

Jerry Melillo

Colin Orians

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Plant and Soil


Background and aims Soil warming from global climate change could increase decomposition of fine woody debris (FWD), but debris size and quality may mitigate this effect. The goal of this study was to investigate the effect of soil warming on decomposition of fine woody debris of differing size and quality. Methods We placed FWD of two size classes (2 \texttimes 20 cm and 4 \texttimes 40 cm) and four species (Acer saccharum, Betula lenta, Quercus rubra and Tsuga canadensis) in a soil warming and ambient area at Harvard Forest in central Massachusetts. We collected the debris from each area over two years and measured mass loss and lignin concentration. Results Warming increased mass loss for all species and size classes (by as much as 30%), but larger debris and debris with higher initial lignin content decomposed slower than smaller debris and debris with lower initial lignin content. Lignin degradation did not follow the same trends as mass loss. Lignin loss from the most lignin-rich species, T. canadensis, was the highest despite the fact that it lost mass the slowest. Conclusions Our results suggest that soil warming will increase decomposition of FWD in temperate forests. It is imperative that future models and policy efforts account for this potential shift in the carbon storage pool.