iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Litter quality changes during decomposition investigated by thermal analysis

Paola Gioacchini (1)   , Daniela Montecchio (1), Erika Ferrari (2), Claudio Ciavatta (1), Andrea Masia (1), Elisabeth George (3), Giustino Tonon (3)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 8, Issue 6, Pages 827-837 (2015)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1297-007
Published: Mar 19, 2015 - Copyright © 2015 SISEF

Research Articles

The litter decomposition process depends on the litter chemical composition, especially the ratio between more labile compounds, cellulose, and the recalcitrant lignin and waxes. Their determination is crucial to predict the process, though lignin measurement presents some limitations due to drawbacks of the different methods. Thermal analysis has been successfully applied to several organic materials in order to obtain quali-quantitative information of the chemical structure of the sample. In this work TG-DTA was used in a short-term litter decomposition study of two broadleaf forest stands of contrasting ages, and the results were compared to those obtained with a chemical method (Klason’s method) commonly used to quantify cellulose and lignin. TG-DTA was applied to the litter and to the cell walls (CW) extracted from the litter, whose cellulose and lignin content was determined using the Klason’s method. When applied to litter, thermal analysis showed a weak correlation with the Klason’s method, though it allowed the detection of the dynamics of waxes, that increased during the decomposition and could influence the later stages of the process. Contrastingly, a good correlation between cellulose and lignin determined with the two methods was found when TG-DTA was applied to the CW. In this case TG-DTA, according to NMR data, also highlighted the changes in the CW chemical structure compared with that of the litters, in particular the loss of waxes and the decreased thermostability of aromatic components. Moreover, a new concept of quality of the decomposing litter, based on the balance between the energy stored in the litter and the energy needed to release it obtained by thermal analysis, was recently introduced. Samples of the old forest litter had an initial energetic balance more favorable than those collected in the young stand. At the end of the period, the decrease in litter quality was greater in the young than in the old forest samples, due to the combined effect of the higher degradation of thermolabile substances and the accumulation of more thermostable components. Thermal analysis seems to have a good potential in litter decomposition studies, as it can link structural and energetic changes during the process.


Thermal Analysis, Litter Quality, NMR, Cellulose, Lignin, Cell Wall

Authors’ address

Paola Gioacchini
Daniela Montecchio
Claudio Ciavatta
Andrea Masia
Department of Agricultural Sciences, Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, v.le Fanin 40, I-40127 Bologna (Italy)
Erika Ferrari
Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, v. G. Campi 183, 41125 Modena (Italy)
Elisabeth George
Giustino Tonon
Faculty of Science and Technology, Free University of Bozen/Bolzano, p.za Università 5, I-39100 Bolzano (Italy)

Corresponding author

Paola Gioacchini


Gioacchini P, Montecchio D, Ferrari E, Ciavatta C, Masia A, George E, Tonon G (2015). Litter quality changes during decomposition investigated by thermal analysis. iForest 8: 827-837. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1297-007

Academic Editor

Renzo Motta

Paper history

Received: Mar 25, 2014
Accepted: Oct 16, 2014

First online: Mar 19, 2015
Publication Date: Dec 01, 2015
Publication Time: 5.13 months

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