Detritivore conversion of litter into faeces accelerates organic matter turnover

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  • François-Xavier Joly
  • Sylvain Coq
  • Mathieu Coulis
  • Jean-François David
  • Stephan Hättenschwiler
  • Müller, Carsten W.
  • Isabel Prater
  • Jens-Arne Subke

Litter-feeding soil animals are notoriously neglected in conceptual and mechanistic biogeochemical models. Yet, they may be a dominant factor in decomposition by converting large amounts of plant litter into faeces. Here, we assess how the chemical and physical changes occurring when litter is converted into faeces alter their fate during further decomposition with an experimental test including 36 combinations of phylogenetically distant detritivores and leaf litter of contrasting physicochemical characteristics. We show that, across litter and detritivore species, litter conversion into detritivore faeces enhanced organic matter lability and thereby accelerated carbon cycling. Notably, the positive conversion effect on faeces quality and decomposition increased with decreasing quality and decomposition of intact litter. This general pattern was consistent across detritivores as different as snails and woodlice, and reduced differences in quality and decomposition amongst litter species. Our data show that litter conversion into detritivore faeces has far-reaching consequences for the understanding and modelling of the terrestrial carbon cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Article number660
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2020

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