Suspended Dead Wood Decomposes Slowly in the Tropics, with Microbial Decay Greater than Termite Decay

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Law, Stephanie
Eggleton, Paul
Griffiths, Hannah
Ashton, Louise
Parr, Catherine
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Coarse woody debris (CWD) is an important pool of carbon in forest ecosystems and is present in all strata as fallen, standing or suspended CWD. However, there are relatively few decomposition studies of CWD in tropical forests compared with temperate forests, and research on suspended CWD in particular has largely not been attempted. Termites are important decomposers in tropical ecosystems yet their role relative to microbial decomposers and the importance of the vertical location of CWD has rarely been considered. For the first time, we examined the relative contribution of macro-invertebrates (predominantly termites) and microbes to the decay of suspended and ground-placed (fallen) CWD in lowland, tropical rainforest. We set up wood baits (Pinus radiata) with and without termite access, and measured wood mass loss after 1 year. Mass loss of ground-placed CWD assays was over four times greater than suspended CWD assays. Termite decomposition was vertically stratified with termites having a large relative contribution to the decomposition of ground-placed CWD and a negligible contribution to the decomposition of suspended CWD. In contrast, the effect of microbes on decomposition was low and not vertically stratified. Although our results support the findings of temperate studies in that decomposition of CWD is dependent on its physical location, we show that in tropical rainforests this is predominantly due to greater termite decomposition on the forest floor. Suspended CWD remains an important carbon sink due to slow microbial decay until it falls to the forest floor where it is more accessible to termites.

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© The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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Law, S; Eggleton, P; Griffiths, H; Ashton, L; Parr, C, Suspended Dead Wood Decomposes Slowly in the Tropics, with Microbial Decay Greater than Termite Decay, Ecosystems, 2019