Patterns in decomposition rates among photosynthetic organisms: the importance of detritus C:N:P content

S. Enríquez*, C. M. Duarte, K. Sand-Jensen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

781 Scopus citations


The strength and generality of the relationship between decomposition rates and detritus carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations was assessed by comparing published reports of decomposition rates of detritus of photosynthetic organisms, from unicellular algae to trees. The results obtained demonstrated the existence of a general positive, linear relationship between plant decomposition rates and nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations. Differences in the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus concentrations of plant detritus accounted for 89% of the variance in plant decomposition rates of detritus orginating from photosynthetic organisms ranging from unicellular microalgae to trees. The results also demonstrate that moist plant material decomposes substantially faster than dry material with similar nutrient concentrations. Consideration of lignin, instead of carbon, concentrations did not improve the relationships obtained. These results reflect the coupling of phosphorus and nitrogen in the basic biochemical processes of both plants and their microbial decomposers, and stress the importance of this coupling for carbon and nutrient flow in ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-471
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Decomposition
  • Nutrients
  • Plant kingdom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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