Decomposition of Leaf Litter
Decomposition is the process of converting dead organic matter into simpler and smaller compounds. This is the main source of nutrition for trees within the forest. The main products from complete decomposition are carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic ions (like ammonium, nitrate, phosphate, and sulfate). Insects, worms, bacteria, and fungi carrry out these processes at the surface of soil and underneath the soil surface. Temperature and soil moisture affect the rate of decomposition since this process is carried out by bacteria and fungi. The higher the temperature, the higher the rate of decomposition. Decomposition still does occur even under the snow. If soil moisture is low, decomposition is inhibited from bacteria and fungi drying out. Also, decomposition is slow in wet soils because anerobic conditions occur which are shorter than aerobic conditions.
Leaf litter decomposition can be measured by the litter bag technique. A pre-measured quantity is placed within the mesh bag which is placed within the litter layer of the forest floor. The bags can be measured of time to determine the amount of mass lost from decomposition. They are allowed to be exposed to normal temperature and moisture fluctuations while being decomposed by insects and microorganisms.