Global meta-analysis of wood decomposition rates: A role for trait variation among tree species?

James T. Weedon, William K. Cornwell, Johannes H C Cornelissen, Amy E. Zanne, Christian Wirth, David A. Coomes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

391 Citations (Scopus)


The carbon flux from woody debris, a crucial uncertainty within global carbon-climate models, is simultaneously affected by climate, site environment and species-based variation in wood quality. In the first global analysis attempting to explicitly tease out the wood quality contribution to decomposition, we found support for our hypothesis that, under a common climate, interspecific differences in wood traits affect woody debris decomposition patterns. A meta-analysis of 36 studies from all forested continents revealed that nitrogen, phosphorus, and C : N ratio correlate with decomposition rates of angiosperms. In addition, gymnosperm wood consistently decomposes slower than angiosperm wood within common sites, a pattern that correlates with clear divergence in wood traits between the two groups. New empirical studies are needed to test whether this difference is due to a direct effect of wood trait variation on decomposer activity or an indirect effect of wood traits on decomposition microsite environment. The wood trait-decomposition results point to an important role for changes in the wood traits of dominant tree species as a driver of carbon cycling, with likely feedback to atmospheric CO2 particularly where angiosperm species replace gymnosperms regionally. Truly worldwide upscaling of our results will require further site-based multi-species wood trait and decomposition data, particularly from low-latitude ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-56
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Angiosperm
  • Decay
  • Gymnosperm
  • Lignin
  • Wood density
  • Woody debris


Dive into the research topics of 'Global meta-analysis of wood decomposition rates: A role for trait variation among tree species?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this