Global-scale similarities in nitrogen release patterns during long-term decomposition

Science. 2007 Jan 19;315(5810):361-4. doi: 10.1126/science.1134853.


Litter decomposition provides the primary source of mineral nitrogen (N) for biological activity in most terrestrial ecosystems. A 10-year decomposition experiment in 21 sites from seven biomes found that net N release from leaf litter is dominantly driven by the initial tissue N concentration and mass remaining regardless of climate, edaphic conditions, or biota. Arid grasslands exposed to high ultraviolet radiation were an exception, where net N release was insensitive to initial N. Roots released N linearly with decomposition and exhibited little net N immobilization. We suggest that fundamental constraints on decomposer physiologies lead to predictable global-scale patterns in net N release during decomposition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humidity
  • Mathematics
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Poaceae
  • Regression Analysis
  • Seasons
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Trees


  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen