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

William K. Cornwell, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Kathryn Amatangelo, Ellen Dorrepaal, Valerie T. Eviner, Oscar Godoy, Sarah E. Hobbie, Bart Hoorens, Hiroko Kurokawa, Natalia Pérez-Harguindeguy, Helen M. Quested, Louis S. Santiago, David A. Wardle, Ian J. Wright, Rien Aerts, Steven D. Allison, Peter Van Bodegom, Victor Brovkin, Alex Chatain, Terry V. CallaghanSandra Díaz, Eric Garnier, Diego E. Gurvich, Elena Kazakou, Julia A. Klein, Jenny Read, Peter B. Reich, Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia, M. Victoria Vaieretti, Mark Westoby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1541 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1065-1071
Number of pages7
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon cycling
  • Decomposition
  • Leaf economic spectrum
  • Leaf traits
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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