Tree functional diversity affects litter decomposition and arthropod community composition in a tropical forest

Laird-Hopkins, Benita C.; Bréchet, Laëtitia M.; Trujillo, Biancolini C. and Sayer, Emma J (2017). Tree functional diversity affects litter decomposition and arthropod community composition in a tropical forest. Biotropica, 49(6) pp. 903–911.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/btp.12477

Abstract

Disturbance can alter tree species and functional diversity in tropical forests, which in turn could affect carbon and nutrient cycling via the decomposition of plant litter. However, the influence of tropical tree diversity on forest floor organisms and the processes they mediate are far from clear. We investigated the influence of different litter mixtures on arthropod communities and decomposition processes in a 60-year-old lowland tropical forest in Panama, Central America. We used litter mixtures representing pioneer and old growth tree species in experimental mesocosms to assess the links between litter types, decomposition rates, and litter arthropod communities. Overall, pioneer species litter decomposed most rapidly and old growth species litter decomposed the slowest but there were clear non-additive effects of litter mixtures containing both functional groups. We observed distinct arthropod communities in different litter mixtures at 6 mo, with greater arthropod diversity and abundance in litter from old growth forest species. By comparing the decay of different litter mixtures in mesocosms and conventional litterbags, we demonstrated that our mesocosms represent an effective approach to link studies of litter decomposition and arthropod communities. Our results indicate that changes in the functional diversity of litter could have wider implications for arthropod communities and ecosystem functioning in tropical forests.

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