Litter for life: assessing the multifunctional legacy of plant traits

André Tavares Corrêa Dias*, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Matty P. Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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    Litter drives a wide variety of important functions in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. However, the role of litter in regulating community dynamics and ecosystem processes has mostly been studied in terms of litter presence or amount. Besides in biogeochemistry, we still do not know how litters from distinct plant species differ in their effects on other ecosystem processes and services including biodiversity support. We briefly synthesize the multiple litter functions and services by using the afterlife legacy of interspecific variation in plant morphological, physical and chemical traits as a unifying tool. We do so by explicit reference to two highly distinct but possibly interacting ‘trait spectra’: the widely known Resource Economic Spectrum, and the Size and Shape Spectrum, a trait-based axis ranging from small and relatively simply shaped distal plant organs to large and more intricately shaped ones. Synthesis. Ecosystem services provided by plant litter are driven by either one of the trait spectra or by both. In this way, the Size and Shape Spectrum-Resource Economic Spectrum concept is a promising tool for understanding and predicting the contributions of different plant species, through the afterlife effects of their litter traits, to various important services in different ecosystems and human contexts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1163-1168
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of Ecology
    Issue number5
    Early online date24 Feb 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017

    Bibliographical note

    This article also appears in: Hans Cornelissen: Eminent Ecologist 2022


    • afterlife effects
    • ecosystem engineering
    • ecosystem services
    • functional composition
    • functional diversity
    • leaf economic spectrum
    • size and shape spectrum


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