Leaf litterfall contributes significantly to carbon fluxes in forests. A crucial open question for the sustainability of mountain forests is how climate change will affect this and other carbon fluxes (eg photosynthesis and respiration). Leaf litterfall and decomposition of Polylepis reticulata, an endemic species of the Andes, were analyzed during a period of 1 year at 6 experimental plots located in the Andean páramo between 3700 and 3900 m above sea level in Cajas National Park, Ecuador. Litterfall was collected in each plot using 5 randomly distributed traps. Every trap had a 40-cm diameter (0.125 m2) and was suspended 0.8 to 1.0 m above the ground. The decomposition rate of the leaf litter was analyzed using litter bags. Eighteen bags with approximately 20 g of dry litter were placed in the litter layer in each experimental plot and collected 30, 60, 90, 150, 210, 300, and 365 days after they were installed. The mean annual litterfall recorded was 3.77 Mg ha−1, representing 51% of the leaf biomass present in the canopy, so the leaf life span of P. reticulata in Cajas National Park is 1.98 years. Litterfall occurred all year, with no significant seasonal pattern. The mean decomposition rate (k) obtained for this study period was 0.38 year−1. This study contributes to the information gap on litterfall and decomposition in natural forests located at the highest elevations in the world.
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