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Data for Liana litter decomposes faster than tree litter in a multispecies and multisite experiment

Cite this dataset

Roeder, Mareike (2022). Data for Liana litter decomposes faster than tree litter in a multispecies and multisite experiment [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Lianas account for a small fraction of forest biomass, but their contribution to leaf or litter biomass and thus to food webs can be substantial. Globally liana exhibit fast life history traits. Thus liana litter may decompose faster than tree litter, and could enhance decomposition of tree litter (complementarity effect). The differences in decomposition may also vary with mesofauna access or across forest communities. The contribution of these factors to nutrient biogeochemical cycling is poorly understood. 

2. We examined the decomposition of litter of 20 liana and 20 tree species of three different tropical forest communities in southern China, over one year. (i) We incubated the litter in bags with coarse and fine mesh to distinguish mesofaunal and microfaunal effects. (ii) We used single-species litter bags to compare decomposition rates of lianas and trees, to test which functional traits best explained decomposition, and whether those traits differed between lianas and trees, and among forest types. (iv) We used mixed-species litter bags to test whether liana litter enhances decomposition in litter mixtures. (v) We evaluated how leaf litter nutrients decayed in relation to litter mass.

3. Litter decayed faster in coarse mesh than fine mesh bags, but there was no interaction effect with forest type or growth form. Liana litter decayed faster than tree litter in single species bags with mesofauna access and in mixed bags (liana-only mix, tree-only mix) without mesofauna. Lianas had higher nitrogen content and specific leaf area and lower leaf dry matter content (LDMC) and toughness than trees. Decomposition rate was significantly negatively related to LDMC. Litter of evergreen broadleaved (EBL) forest decomposed slower than that of other forest types. Liana litter did not enhance the decomposition of tree litter in mixtures. Liana litter released calcium slightly faster than trees.

Synthesis: Leaf litter decomposes faster for lianas than trees, despite high variability of traits and decomposition rates within each growth form and overlap between growth forms, and we found no evidence for the complementarity hypothesis. Our study sheds light on the potential role of lianas within brown food webs and their importance on terrestrial biogeochemistry.


dry biomass of litter after 1,3,6,12 months incubation in coarse mesh (2mm) and fine mesh (0.1mm) bags

physical traits: speciefic leaf area, leaf dry matter content, leaf toughness

chemical traits: content of N, P, K, C, Mg, Ca, S as well as (soluble) tannin and lignin


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: Y6GJ151B01