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A Hierarchical Model for Decomposition in Terrestrial Ecosystems: Application to Soils of the Humid Tropics

Patrick Lavelle, Eric Blanchart, Agnes Martin, Serge Martin and Alister Spain
Biotropica
Vol. 25, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), pp. 130-150
DOI: 10.2307/2389178
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2389178
Page Count: 21
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
A Hierarchical Model for Decomposition in Terrestrial Ecosystems: Application to Soils of the Humid Tropics
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Abstract

A general model is presented in which the dynamics of decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems are determined by a set of hierarchically organized factors which regulate microbial activity at decreasing scales of time and space in the following order: climate - clay mineralogy + nutrient status of soil - quality of decomposing resources - effect of macroorganisms (i.e., roots and invertebrates). At the lower scale of determination, biological systems of regulation based on mutualistic relationships between macro- and microorganisms ultimately determine the rates and pathways of decomposition. Four such systems are defined, i.e., the litter and surface roots system, the rhizosphere, the drilosphere and the termitosphere in which the regulating macroorganisms are respectively litter arthropods and surface roots, live subterranean roots, endogeic earthworms, and termites. In the humid tropics, this general model is often altered because climatic and edaphic constraints are in many cases not important and because high temperature and moisture conditions greatly enhance the activity of mutualistic biological systems of regulation which exert a much stronger control on litter and soil organic matter dynamics. This general hypothesis is considered in the light of available information from tropical rain forests and humid savannas. Theoretical and practical implications regarding the biodiversity issue and management practices are further discussed. It is concluded that biodiversity is probably determined, at least partly, by soil biological processes as a consequence of enhanced mutualistic interactions, which enlarge the resource base available to plants. It is also concluded that any effort to restore or rehabilitate degraded soils in the humid tropics is promised to fail unless optimum levels of root and invertebrate activities are promoted and the resulting regulation effects operate in the four abovedescribed biological systems of regulation. Research required to substantiate and adequately test the present set of concepts and hypotheses are expressed.

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