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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Litter conversion into detritivore faeces reshuffles the quality control over C and N dynamics during decomposition
Author(s): Joly, François-Xavier
Coq, Sylvain
Coulis, Mathieu
Nahmani, Johanne
Hättenschwiler, Stephan
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Keywords: Faecal pellet
Litter traits
Litter transformer
Nitrogen immobilisation
Saprophagous invertebrate
Soil fauna
Issue Date: 30-Nov-2018
Citation: Joly F, Coq S, Coulis M, Nahmani J & Hättenschwiler S (2018) Litter conversion into detritivore faeces reshuffles the quality control over C and N dynamics during decomposition. Functional Ecology, 32 (11), pp. 2605-2614.
Abstract: 1. In many terrestrial ecosystems, detritivorous soil organisms ingest large amounts of leaf litter returning most of it to the soil as faeces. Such conversion of leaf litter into faeces may stimulate decomposition by increasing the surface area available for microbial colonization. Yet, experimental support for either the outcome or the mechanism of these conversion effects is lacking. 2. Based on the hypothesis that the identity of plant species from which leaf litter is transformed into faeces has a critical role in how faeces decomposition proceeds, we collected faeces of the widely abundant millipede Glomeris marginata fed with leaf litter from seven distinct tree species. We compared the physical and chemical characteristics and the rates of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) loss between litter and faeces. 3. We found that after 100 days of exposure under controlled conditions, C loss was on average higher in faeces (40%) than in litter (26.6%), with a significant increase for six out of the seven species. Concurrently, N dynamics switched from a net immobilisation (7.7%) in litter to a net release (14.6%) in faeces, with a significant increase for five out of the seven species. 4. Litter conversion into faeces generally homogenised differences in physical and chemical characteristics among species. Despite such homogenisation, variability in rates of faeces C and N loss among species was similar compared to leaf litter, but correlated with a different set of traits. Specifically, faecal pellet C loss was positively related to compaction (decreased specific area and increased density of faecal pellets), and both C and N loss from faecal pellets were positively related to fragmentation (increased specific area and perimeter of particles within faecal pellets). 5. We conclude that litter fragmentation and compaction into detritivore faecal pellets leads to substantially enhanced decomposition, with a particularly strong impact on N dynamics that changed from immobilisation to net release depending on litter species. Moreover, litter quality control on decomposition is reshuffled by litter conversion into faeces. In ecosystems with high detritivore abundance, this so far largely overlooked pathway of organic matter turnover may strongly affect ecosystem C and N cycling.
DOI Link: 10.1111/1365-2435.13178
Rights: This item has been embargoed for a period. During the embargo please use the Request a Copy feature at the foot of the Repository record to request a copy directly from the author. You can only request a copy if you wish to use this work for your own research or private study. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Joly F‐X, Coq S, Coulis M, Nahmani J, Hättenschwiler S. Litter conversion into detritivore faeces reshuffles the quality control over C and N dynamics during decomposition. Funct Ecol. 2018;32:2605–2614, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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