Infoscience

Review

Dynamics of alpine plant litter decomposition in a changing climate

Climatic changes resulting from anthropogenic activities over the passed century are repeatedly reported to alter the functioning of pristine ecosystems worldwide, and especially those in cold biomes. Available literature on the process of plant leaf litter decomposition in the temperate Alpine zone is reviewed here, with emphasis on both direct and indirect effects of climate change phenomena on rates of litter decay. Weighing the impact of biotic and abiotic processes governing litter mass loss, it appears that an immediate intensification of decomposition rates due to temperature rise can be retarded by decreased soil moisture, insufficient snow cover insulation, and shrub expansion in the Alpine zone. This tentative conclusion, remains speculative unless empirically tested, but it has profound implications for understanding the biogeochemical cycling in the Alpine vegetation belt, and its potential role as a buffering mechanism to climate change.

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