Litter decomposition experiment completed

Litter decomposition is one of the key ecosystem functions which we are assessing in the BEFTA plots. Measuring this is fairly straight-forward, although time consuming. First of all you have to decide what type of leaf litter you are going to measure the decomposition of. In our case this was easy: oil palm. You then gather a sufficient quantity of the leaf litter, remove the course veins from the leaves, and oven dry the material at 50oC. A known mass of this litter can then be sealed in a mesh bag (looking a bit like an exotic tea bag), placed in the plots and the weight loss of the litter recorded over time. In our project, we used three different types of mesh bags. These were mesh bags with mesh of less than 0.5mm (therefore not allowing any invertebrates to enter), mesh bags with 2mm mesh (allowing small invertebrates to enter) and mesh bags with 1cm holes cut into them (allowing larger invertebrates to enter). By comparing the decomposition rates across these different sizes of mesh, it is therefore possible to assess the importance of invertebrates in decomposition. Sets of four bags of the three different mesh gauges were placed on the soil, among the dead frond piles at three locations in each plot and one from each size and set collected after 10 days, 30 days, 60 days and 120 days. The bags are then oven dried again and the litter brushed clean of any mud or sand before being reweighed. The last set of these litter bags have already been collected and processed, providing an important baseline rate of litter decomposition across the plots against which any changes as a result of the experiment can be assessed.

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