Data from: Quantifying the factors affecting leaf litter decomposition across a tropical forest disturbance gradient
Paudel, Ekananda et al. (2016), Data from: Quantifying the factors affecting leaf litter decomposition across a tropical forest disturbance gradient, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.8h4v0
Deforestation and forest degradation are driving unprecedented declines in biodiversity across the tropics, and understanding the consequences of these changes for ecosystem functioning is essential for human well-being. Forest degradation and loss alter ecosystem functioning through changes in species composition and abiotic conditions. However, the consequences of these changes for heterospecific processes are often poorly understood. Leaf litter decomposition is a major source of atmospheric carbon and critical for carbon and nutrient cycling. Through a highly replicated litter-bag experiment (3360 bags), we quantified the effects of litter quality, decomposer functional diversity and seasonal precipitation regime on litter decomposition along a tropical disturbance gradient in SW China. In addition, using soil and litter from sites selected from across the disturbance gradient, we established replicated litter-bed treatments and exposed these to a gradient of simulated canopy cover in a shade-house. Across the landscape, mass loss from litter-bags after 12 months varied from 7% to 98%. Even after 12 months, litter-bags installed at the beginning of the dry season had much lower mass loss than those installed at the beginning of the wet season. As expected, litter quality and faunal exclusion had substantial effects on decomposition rates. Decomposition rates declined along the disturbance gradient from mature forest, through regenerating forest to open land, although the effect size was strongly dependent on installation season. The effect of excluding meso- and macro-invertebrates increased with increasing forest degradation, whereas the effect of litter quality declined. Results from the shade-house experiment strongly suggested that forest degradation effects were driven predominantly by changes in micro-climatic conditions resulting from increased canopy openness. To better model the impacts of anthropogenic global change on litter decomposition rates, it will be important to consider landscape scale processes, such as forest degradation.