Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Jennifer J. Follstad Shah; John S. Kominoski; Marcelo Ardón; Walter K. Dodds; Mark O. Gessner; Natalie A. Griffiths; Charles P. Hawkins; Sherri L. Johnson; Antoine Lecerf; Carri J. LeRoy; David W. P. Manning; Amy D. Rosemond; Robert L. Sinsabaugh; Christopher M. Swan; Jackson R. Webster; Lydia H. Zeglin
    Date: 2017
    Source: Global Change Biology
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: Pacific Northwest Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (548.0 KB)


    Streams and rivers are important conduits of terrestrially derived carbon (C) to atmospheric and marine reservoirs. Leaf litter breakdown rates are expected to increase as water temperatures rise in response to climate change. The magnitude of increase in breakdown rates is uncertain, given differences in litter quality and microbial and detritivore community responses to temperature, factors that can influence the apparent temperature sensitivity of breakdown and the relative proportion of C lost to the atmosphere vs. stored or transported downstream. Here, we synthesized 1025 records of litter breakdown in streams and rivers to quantify its temperature sensitivity, as measured by the activation energy (Ea, in eV). Temperature sensitivity of litter breakdown varied among twelve plant genera for which Ea could be calculated. Higher values of Ea were correlated with lower-quality litter, but these correlations were influenced by a single, N-fixing genus (Alnus). Ea values converged when genera were classified into three breakdown rate categories, potentially due to continual water availability in streams and rivers modulating the influence of leaf chemistry on breakdown. Across all data representing 85 plant genera, the Ea was 0.34 ± 0.04 eV, or approximately half the value (0.65 eV) predicted by metabolic theory. Our results indicate that average breakdown rates may increase by 5–21% with a 1–4 °C rise in water temperature, rather than a 10–45% increase expected, according to metabolic theory. Differential warming of tropical and temperate biomes could result in a similar proportional increase in breakdown rates, despite variation in Ea values for these regions (0.75 ± 0.13 eV and 0.27 ± 0.05 eV, respectively). The relative proportions of gaseous C loss and organic matter transport downstream should not change with rising temperature given that Ea values for breakdown mediated by microbes alone and microbes plus detritivores were similar at the global scale.

    Publication Notes

    • Visit PNW's Publication Request Page to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Follstad Shah, Jennifer J.; Kominoski, John S.; Ardón, Marcelo; Dodds, Walter K.; Gessner, Mark O.; Griffiths, Natalie A.; Hawkins, Charles P.; Johnson, Sherri L.; Lecerf, Antoine; LeRoy, Carri J.; Manning, David W. P.; Rosemond, Amy D.; Sinsabaugh, Robert L.; Swan, Christopher M.; Webster, Jackson R.; Zeglin, Lydia H. 2017.Global synthesis of the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers. Global Change Biology. 23(8): 3064-3075.


    Google Scholar


    Activation energy, breakdown, carbon cycling, climate change, detritivore, leaf chemistry, metabolic theory, microbe, organic matter, temperature sensitivity

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page