Wood decomposition in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the tropics: Contrasting biotic and abiotic processes

Jennifer M. Jones, Katy D. Heath, Astrid Ferrer, Shawn P. Brown, Thomas Canam, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wood decomposition, a critical process in carbon and nutrient cycles, is influenced by environmental conditions, decomposer communities and substrate composition. While these factors differ between land and stream habitats, across-habitat comparisons of wood decay processes are rare, limiting our ability to evaluate the context- dependency of the drivers of decay. Here we tracked wood decomposition of three tree species placed in stream and terrestrial habitats in a lowland tropical forest in Panama. At 3 and 11 months we measured mass loss, wood nitrogen and wood polymer concentrations, and sampled wood-associated fungal and bacterial communities. After 11 months of decay we found that mass loss occurred 9% faster in streams than on land, but loss of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin did not differ between habitats. We also observed large differences in microbial decomposer communities between habitats. Overall, we found faster mass loss of wood in water, but no differences in biotic decay processes between habitats despite distinct microbial communities in streams and on land. Our research challenges the assumption that wood decays relatively slowly in water reflecting unfavorable environmental conditions and a limited capacity of aquatic microbial communities to effectively degrade wood polymers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfiy223
JournalFEMS microbiology ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 18 2018


  • Fungal and bacterial communities
  • Nitrogen
  • Stream and terrestrial habitats
  • Tropical forest
  • Wood decay

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


Dive into the research topics of 'Wood decomposition in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the tropics: Contrasting biotic and abiotic processes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this