Determining Litter Mass Loss By the Plant Tagging Approach

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Book Chapter

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Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The spatial and temporal context in which plant litter decomposes is a critical consideration when selecting methods to study litter decomposition. Some plants, such as emergent macrophytes, do not abscise leaves, and their shoots may remain standing for extended periods, such that plant biomass begins decomposition in an upright aerial position. This chapter describes a method for estimating decomposition rates by using a non-destructive plant tagging approach. Brightly coloured electrical cable ties are used to label individual shoots or leaves and follow them during the course of senescence and decomposition. Tagged shoots are periodically collected and the mass loss rates of leaf blades, sheaths or stems are determined based on declines in either area-specific mass or other morphometric measures used to estimate the initial dry mass of the tagged plant parts. Nutrient and microbial dynamics can also be determined by analyzing periodically collected plant material that had been tagged. Application of the method has provided accurate mass loss data in many situations where the standard litter-bag approach falls short of mimicking the natural sequence of the decomposition process in the field.

Publication Title

Methods to Study Litter Decomposition

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