Potential macro-detritivore range expansion into the subarctic stimulates litter decomposition: a new positive feedback mechanism to climate change?

K.G. van Geffen, M.P. Berg, R. Aerts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

As a result of low decomposition rates, high-latitude ecosystems store large amounts of carbon. Litter decomposition in these ecosystems is constrained by harsh abiotic conditions, but also by the absence of macro-detritivores. We have studied the potential effects of their climate change-driven northward range expansion on the decomposition of two contrasting subarctic litter types. Litter of Alnus incana and Betula pubescens was incubated in microcosms together with monocultures and all possible combinations of three functionally different macro-detritivores (the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus, isopod Oniscus asellus, and millipede Julus scandinavius). Our results show that these macro-detritivores stimulated decomposition, especially of the high-quality A. incana litter and that the macro-detritivores tested differed in their decomposition-stimulating effects, with earthworms having the largest influence. Decomposition processes increased with increasing number of macro-detritivore species, and positive net diveristy effects occurred in several macro-detritivore treatments. However, after correction for macro-detritivore biomass, all interspecific differences in macro-detritivore effects, as well as the positive effects of species number on subarctic litter decomposition disappeared. The net diversity effects also appeared to be driven by variation in biomass, with a possible exception of net diversity effects in mass loss. Based on these results, we conclude that the expected climate change-induced range expansion of macro-detritivores into subarctic regions is likely to result in accelerated decomposition rates. Our results also indicate that the magnitude of macro-detritivore effects on subarctic decomposition will mainly depend on macro-detritivore biomass, rather than on macro-detritivore species number or identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1163-1175
JournalOecologia
Volume167
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Keywords

  • leaf-litter
  • atmospheric co2
  • elevated co2
  • cold biomes
  • earthworms
  • quality
  • biodiversity
  • millipedes
  • rates
  • complementarity

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