Decomposition is an important carbon flux that must be accounted for in estimates of forest ecosystem carbon balance. Aim of this research is to provide estimate of fine woody debris decomposition rates for different tree species and sample sizes also taking into account the influence of specific microsite meteorological conditions on decomposition rates. In this paper we present results of the first two years of the experiment designed to last six years. Study was conducted in managed lowland oak forest in central Croatia. Decomposition rates (k) of fine woody debris (diameter 0.5–7 cm) for four species (Querus robur L., Carpinut betulus L., Alnus glutinosa Gaernt., Fraxinus angustifolia L.) in four size classes were estimated using litter bag method and mass loss equation of Olson (1963).
Overall average k in our study was 0.182 ± 0.011 year-1. Results indicate that decomposition rate is affected by the size of the debris, with the smallest diameter branches (<1 cm) decomposing is significantly faster (k = 0.260 ± 0.018, P <0.05) than the larger one. Tree species from which debris had originated also affected decomposition, although to a lesser extent, with hornbeam samples having significantly (P <0.05) higher average decomposition rate (0.229 ± 0.028), compared to that of ash samples (0.141 ± 0.022). Proportion of variability in k explained by variables ‘species’ and ‘size class’ was assessed with general linear model (R2 = 0.644) also taking into account variables like soil temperature and soil water content. Sample size class explained 22.2%; species explained only 9.4%, while soil water content and temperature combined explained 32.8% of the variance of k. Rate constants obtained within this study might be useful in modelling ecosystem carbon balance for similar lowland forest ecosystems in Europe.