Factors influencing limit values for pine needle litter decomposition: A synthesis for boreal and temperate pine forest systems

B. Berg, M. P. Davey, A. de Marco, B. Emmett, M. Faituri, S. E. Hobbie, M. B. Johansson, C. Liu, C. McClaugherty, L. Norell, F. A. Rutigliano, L. Vesterdal, A. Virzo De Santo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

139 Scopus citations


We synthesized available data for decomposition of pine (Pinus) needle litter in pine forests to determine the litter chemical characteristics and climate factors that explained variation in the limit value, i. e. the level of accumulated mass loss at which the decomposition process either continues at a very low rate or possibly stops. Our data base included 56 separate studies on decomposition of pine needle litter, spanning Scots pine, lodgepole pine, Aleppo pine, stone pine and white pine, mainly incubated at the site of collection. Studies had 5 to 19 samplings, on average 10, and the decomposition was followed to a mass loss ranging from 47 to 83%, on average 67%. The periods from 3.0 to 5.4 years, on average 3.9 years, were of sufficient duration to allow estimates of limit values of decomposition. We used a linear mixed model with regression effects to relate limit values to potential explanatory variables, namely the sites' long-term mean annual temperature (MAT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP) and to substrate-chemistry factors. Regarding the latter, we explored two models; one that included initial concentrations of water solubles, lignin, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and Mn and one that included only lignin, N, Ca, and Mn to focus on those nutrients known to influence lignin degradation. Using backward elimination significant explanatory variables were determined. For litter decomposed in its site of origin we found the limit value to depend mainly on the initial concentration of Mn, with higher Mn concentrations resulting in higher accumulated mass loss. Thus, litter with higher Mn reached a higher limit value and left a smaller stable fraction. This is likely due to the fact that Mn is an essential component of ligninolytic enzymes important for degrading litter in the later stages of decomposition. Manganese has received little attention in decomposition studies to date. Given its significance in this synthesis, the role of Mn in influencing variation in the late stages of decomposition among ecosystems and among litters of other genera besides Pinus deserves further attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Calcium
  • Limit values
  • Litter decomposition
  • Manganese
  • Maximum decomposition
  • Nitrogen


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