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Ecosystem type drives tea litter decomposition and associated prokaryotic microbiome communities in freshwater and coastal wetlands at a continental scale

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 00:03 authored by Trevathan-Tackett, SM, Kepfer-Rojas, S, Engelen, AH, York, PH, Ola, A, Li, J, Kelleway, JJ, Jinks, KI, Jackson, EL, Adame, MF, Pendall, E, Lovelock, CE, Connolly, RM, Anne WatsonAnne Watson, Visby, I, Trethowan, A, Taylor, B, Roberts, TNB, Petch, J, Farrington, L, Djukic, I, Macreadie, PI
Wetland ecosystems are critical to the regulation of the global carbon cycle, and there is a high demand for data to improve carbon sequestration and emission models and predictions. Decomposition of plant litter is an important component of ecosystem carbon cycling, yet a lack of knowledge on decay rates in wetlands is an impediment to predicting carbon preservation. Here, we aim to fill this knowledge gap by quantifying the decomposition of standardised green and rooibos tea litter over one year within freshwater and coastal wetland soils across four climates in Australia. We also captured changes in the prokaryotic members of the tea-associated microbiome during this process. Ecosystem type drove differences in tea decay rates and prokaryotic microbiome community composition. Decomposition rates were up to 2-fold higher in mangrove and seagrass soils compared to freshwater wetlands and tidal marshes, in part due to greater leaching-related mass loss. For tidal marshes and freshwater wetlands, the warmer climates had 7-16% less mass remaining compared to temperate climates after a year of decomposition. The prokaryotic microbiome community composition was significantly different between substrate types and sampling times within and across ecosystem types. Microbial indicator analyses suggested putative metabolic pathways common across ecosystems were used to breakdown the tea litter, including increased presence of putative methylotrophs and sulphur oxidisers linked to the introduction of oxygen by root in-growth over the incubation period. Structural equation modelling analyses further highlighted the importance of incubation time on tea decomposition and prokaryotic microbiome community succession, particularly for rooibos tea that experienced a greater proportion of mass loss between three and twelve months compared to green tea. These results provide insights into ecosystem-level attributes that affect both the abiotic and biotic controls of belowground wetland carbon turnover at a continental scale, while also highlighting new decay dynamics for tea litter decomposing under longer incubations.


Publication title

Science of the Total Environment



Article number









School of Natural Sciences


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Ecosystem adaptation to climate change; Adaptation to climate change not elsewhere classified