1 An experimental multispecies screening of leaf decomposition rates was undertaken in order to identify and quantify general patterns in leaf decomposition rates in functional plant types and taxa. Functional species groups were characterized using whole-plant and whole-leaf features relevant to the functioning of plants in their natural environments. 2 The experiment included fresh leaf litters of 125 British vascular plant species, covering a wide range of life-forms, leaf habits and taxa. Preweighed litter samples were enclosed in two types of litter bags and exposed to natural weather conditions and soil-borne decomposers by burying them simultaneously in an experimental outdoor leaf-mould layer. 3 Relative litter dry weight losses showed largely similar patterns among species between both litter bag types, between 8 and 20-week burial periods in winter and between winter and summer burial. 4 Life-form, deciduous vs. evergreen habit, autumn coloration of leaf litter, family and evolutionary advancement sensu Sporne could each explain part of the variability in litter dry weight loss among species. The correlation with litter specific leaf area appeared confounded with taxonomy. 5 Some of these easy-to-assess predictors of species' relative leaf decomposition rates may prove useful for modelling soil decomposition rates under vegetations differing in species composition.
- Weight loss