iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Decomposition of Norway spruce and European larch coarse woody debris (CWD) in relation to different elevation and exposure in an Alpine setting

Marta Petrillo (1-2), Paolo Cherubini (2), Giacomo Sartori (3), Samuel Abiven (1), Judith Ascher (4-5), Daniela Bertoldi (6), Federica Camin (6), Alice Barbero (6), Roberto Larcher (6), Markus Egli (1)   

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 9, Issue 1, Pages 154-164 (2015)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1591-008
Published: Aug 28, 2015 - Copyright © 2015 SISEF

Research Articles

To describe the decay stage of coarse woody debris (CWD) a five decay-class system has been introduced and it is currently the most commonly applied. This system is based on visual, geometric and tactile features of the wood in the field; however, a detailed chemical characterization is often missing. Furthermore, the driving mechanisms (particularly substrate quality vs. environmental conditions) of deadwood decay are controversially discussed. Consequently, we investigated how typical major and minor chemical parameters of wood were correlated with the decay stage. The decomposition patterns of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst) and European larch (Larix decidua Mill.) CWD of an Alpine setting were analyzed, and how the chemical and physical parameters were affected by the substrate and environmental conditions was checked. Two altitudinal sequences, having a different exposure (north- vs. south-facing sites), were sampled. We measured main biochemical compounds (lignin and cellulose), physical properties (density and water content), element concentrations (C, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn), and the carbon isotopic signature (δ13C) of living trees and CWD at five decomposition stages (decay classes). Most investigated wood physico-chemical parameters such as wood density, water content, lignin and cellulose and even minor constituents (N, Ca, Mg, P, Fe, Mn) correlated well to the five decay-class system. Some important components, such as the carbon concentration and δ13C, did not vary with increasing decomposition. Our hypothesis that the different substrate should be traceable during CWD decay had to be rejected, although some statistically significant chemical differences between larch and spruce were measured in the living trees. The chosen tree species were probably not different enough to be chemically traceable in the CWD. Already in decay class 1, these differences were zeroed. The site conditions (expressed by the different altitudes and exposure) influenced only some of the investigated parameters, namely lignin, the δ13C isotopic ratio and nutrients such as P, Ca and K.


Deadwood, Alps, Norway Spruce, European Larch, Decomposition, Lignin, Nutrients, Carbon Isotopes

Authors’ address

Marta Petrillo
Samuel Abiven
Markus Egli
Department of Geography, University of Zurich, CH-8057 Zurich (Switzerland)
Marta Petrillo
Paolo Cherubini
WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, CH-8903 Birmensdorf (Switzerland)
Giacomo Sartori
Museo delle Scienze, I-38123 Trento (Italy)
Judith Ascher
Department of Agrifood and Environmental Science, University of Florence, I-50144 Florence (Italy)
Judith Ascher
Institute of Microbiology, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck (Austria)
Daniela Bertoldi
Federica Camin
Alice Barbero
Roberto Larcher
IASMA, Fondazione Edmund Mach, I-38010 San Michele all’Adige (Italy)

Corresponding author



Petrillo M, Cherubini P, Sartori G, Abiven S, Ascher J, Bertoldi D, Camin F, Barbero A, Larcher R, Egli M (2015). Decomposition of Norway spruce and European larch coarse woody debris (CWD) in relation to different elevation and exposure in an Alpine setting. iForest 9: 154-164. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1591-008

Academic Editor

Rupert Seidl

Paper history

Received: Feb 06, 2015
Accepted: Jul 13, 2015

First online: Aug 28, 2015
Publication Date: Feb 21, 2016
Publication Time: 1.53 months

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