Litterfall, Decomposition and Nutrient Dynamics in Traditional Agro-Forestry Systems of Northeast India

Sumpam Tangjang, A. Arunachalam, K. Arunachalam, S. Deb


We investigated litter production, litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics from three traditional agroforestry systems in Harmutty (Assam) and Nirjuli and Doimukh (Arunachal Pradesh) in northeast India. Litter production was studied by using litter traps and decomposition of leaf litter by nylon net bag technique. On an average, litterfall was 1406 kg ha-1 yr-1 that was influenced by climatic variables. Canopy species such as Areca catechu and Gmelina arborea accounted for about 30% of the total litter production. Analysis of variance indicated significant difference at 0.05 level in leaf and non-leaf litter (F=16.25; P=2.96). Overall, leaf litterfall was greater during winter in Harmutty and Doimukh sites and during autumn in Nirjuli site. This is attributed to species characteristics. The litter biomass on the floor of different agroforestry sites varied from 455 to 755 kg ha-1. Trees provide about 75% of the total leaf litterfall; Areca catechu contributed 13%, followed by Alstonia scholaris (3.8%). Altogether, shrub species contributed 24% of the litter. Decay rate was highest for Colocasia esculenta (8.61) and lowest in Livistona jenkinsiana (0.68). The initial N content was greater in Ageratum conyzoides and lower in Musa sp. During the early period of decomposition nutrients decreased whereas the concentration of nitrogen increased. The residue quality could contribute to the nutrient cycling processes that facilitates the production and productivity of agroforestry systems per se.


Agroforestry; Decomposition; Littefall; Nutrient Dynamics; Northeast India


Allen, F.S.; Grimshaw, H.M.; Parkinson, J.A. and Quarmby, C. 1974. Chemical Analysis of Ecological Materials. Blackwell Scien-tific Publication, Oxford. 565 pages.

Anderson, J.M. and Ingram, J.S.I. 1993. Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility. CAB International, Wallingford, UK. 221 pages.

Anderson, J.M. and Swift, M.J. 1983. Decomposition in tropical forest. Pages 287-309, In: Sutton, S.L.; Whitmore, T.C. and Chadwick, A.C. (Editors) Tropical Rain Forest: Ecology and Management. Blackwells, Oxford.

Berg, B. 2000. Litter decomposition and organic matter turnover in northern forest soils. Forest Ecology and Management 133: 13–22.

Berg, B. and McClaugherty, C. 2008. Plant Litter—decomposition, Humus Formation, Carbon Sequestration. Springer, Berlin. 331 pages.

Bharadwaj, D.B.; Datta, R. and Gupta, S.R. 1992. Effect of resource quality of leaf litter on the decomposition rates and nitrogen mineralization. Journal of Tree Science 11(I): 11-20.

Bloomfield, J.; Vogt, K.A. and Vogt, D.J. 1993. Decay rate and substrate quality of fine roots and foliage of two tropical tree species in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. Plant and Soil 150: 233-245.

Bockheim, J.G.; Jepsen, E.A. and Heisey, D.M. 1991. Nutrient dynamics in decomposing leaf litter of four tree species on a sandy soil in North-western Wisconsin. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 21(6): 803–812.

Bray, J.R. and Gorham, E. 1964. Litter production in forests of the world. Advance Economic Resource 2: 101-157.

Burghout, T.B.A. 1993. Spatial Heterogeneity of Nutrient Cycling in Bornean Rain Forest. Ph.D. thesis. University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 156 pages.

Carabias, L.J. and Guevara, S. 1985. Fenologia de una selva tropical humeda yen una comuniadad derivada, Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz. Pages xxxx, In: Gomez-Pompa, A. and del Amo, R. S. (Editors.) Investigacion sobre la regeneration de Selvas Altas en Veracruz, Mexico. Vol. II., INIREB. Alhambra. Mexico. Vol. II. INIREB, Alhambra.

Dawoe, E.K.; Isaac, M.E. and Quashie-Sam, J. 2010. Litterfall and litter nutrient dynamics under cocoa ecosystems in lowland humid Ghana. Plant Soil 330: 55-64.

Edwards, C.A. and Lofty, R. 1977. The Biology of Earthworms. Chapman & Hall, London. 426 pages.

Facelli, J.M. and Pickett, S.T.A. 1991. Plant litter: its dynamics and effect on plant community structure. The Botanical Review 57: 1-32.

Fernandes, E.C.M.; Biot, Y.; Castilla, C.; Canto, A. and Matos, J.C.S. 1997. The impact of selective logging and forest conversion for subsistence agriculture and pastures on terrestrial nutrient dynamics in the Amazon. Ciecia Cultura 49: 34-47.

Gilbert, O. and Bocock, K.L. 1960. Changes in the leaf litter when placed on the surface of soils with contrasting humus types. II. Changes in the nitrogen content of oak and ash litter. Journal of Soil Science 11: 10-19.

Guo, L.V. and Sims, R.E.H. 1999. Litter production and nutrient return in New Zealand eucalypt short-rotation forests: implications for land management. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 73: 93-100.

Hairiah, K.; Sulistyani, H.; Suprayogo, D.; Widianto, Purnomosidhi, P.; Widodo, R.H. and Van Noordwijk, M. 2006. Litter layer residence time in forest and coffee agroforestry systems in Sumberjaya, West Lampung. Forest Ecology and Management 224: 45–57.

Heal, O.W.; Anderson, J.M. and Swift, M.J. 1997. Plant litter quality and decomposition: an historical overview. Pages 3-30, In: Cadisch, G. and Giller, K.E. (Editors) Driven by Nature: Plant Litter Quality and Decomposition. CABI, Wallingford..

ICP FORESTS. 2004. Manual on Methods and Criteria for Harmonized Sampling, Assessment, Monitoring and Analysis of the Effects of Air Pollution on Forests. Part XI- Sampling and Analysis of Litterfall. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Available from: http: // (Assessed on 5th March 2009).

Isaac, M.E.; Gordon, A.M.; Thevathasan, N.; Oppong, S.K. and Quashie-Sam, S.J. 2005. Temporal changes in soil carbon and nitrogen in West African multi-strata agroforestry systems: a chronosequence of pools and fluxes. Agroforestry Systems 65: 23–31.

Jacob, M.; Viedenz, K.; Polle, A. and Thomas, F.M. 2010. Leaf litter decomposition intemperate deciduous forest stands with a decreasing fraction of beech (Fagus sylvatica). Oecologia 164: 1083–1094.

Jamaludheen, V. and Kumar, B.M. 1999. Litter of multipurpose trees in Kerala, India: variations in the amount, quality, decay rates and release of nutrients. Forest Ecology and Management 115(1) 1–11.

Kumar, G. 1997. Geology of Arunachal Pradesh. Geological Society of India, Bangalore. 237 pages.

Kunhamu, T.K. 1994. Nutrient Content and Decomposition of Leaf Biomass of Selected Woody Tree Species. M.Sc. (Forestry) Thesis, Kerala Agricultural University, Vellanikkara. Thissur.

Lambers, H.; Chapin, F.S. and Pons, T.L. 1998 Plant Physiological Ecology. 2nd Edition. Springer, New York, USA. 540 pages.

Laudelout, H. and Meyer, J. 1954. I1.3_Les cycles d'elements mineraux et de matiere organique on foret equatoriale congolaise. International Congress of Soil Science Transactions 5: 267-272.

Lawrence, D. and Foster, D. 2002. Changes in forest biomass, litter dynamics and soils following shifting cultivation in southern Mexico: an overview. Interciencia 27(8): 400–408.

Lian, Y. and Zhang, Q. 1998. Conversion of natural broad-leaved evergreen forest into pure and mixed plantation forests in a sub-tropical area: effects on nutrient cycling. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 28: 1518–1529

Mafongoya, P.L.; Dzowela, B.H. and Nair, P.K.R. 1997. Effect of multipurpose trees, age of cutting and drying method on pruning quality. Pages 167-174, In: Cadisch, G. and Giller, K.E. (Editors) Driven by Nature: Plant Litter Quality and Decom-position. CABI, Wallingford.

Mafongoya, P.L.; Giller, K.E. and Palm, C.A. 1998. Decomposition and nitrogen release patterned of tree pruning and litter. Agroforestry System 38: 77-79.

Martius, C.; Höfer, H.; Garcia, M.V.B.; Römbke, J. and Hanagarth, W. 2004. Litterfall, litterstocks and decomposition rates in rainforest and agroforestry sites in central Amazonia. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 68: 137–154

Mtambanengwe, F. and Kirchmann, H. 1995. Litter from tropical savanna woodland (Miombo): chemical composition and C and N mineralization. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 27: 1639–1651.

Mugendi, D.N.; Nair, P.K.R.; Mugwe, J.N.; O’Neil, M.K.; Swift, M.J. and Woomer, P.L. 1999. Alleycropping of maize with Calliandra and Leucaena in the subhunid highlands of Kenya: part 2: Biomass decomposition nitrogen mineralization and nitrogen uptake by maize. Agroforestry Systems 46: 51–64.

Odiwe, A.I. and Muoghalu, J.I. 2003. Litterfall dynamics and forest floor litter as influenced by fire in a secondary lowland rain forest in Nigeria. Tropical Ecology 44(2): 243-251.

Olson, J.S. 1963. Energy storage and the balance of producer and decomposers in ecological systems. Ecoclogy 44: 322-331.

Okeke, A.I. and Omaliko, C.P.E. 1991. Nutrients accretion to the soil via litterfall and throughfall in Dactyladenia barterii at Ozala, Nigeria. Agroforestry Systems 16: 39-59.

Osono, T. 2007. Ecology of ligninolytic fungi associated with leaf litter decomposition. Ecological Research 22: 955–974.

Osono, T. and Takeda, H. 2005. Decomposition of organic chemical components in relation to nitrogen dynamics in leaf litter of 14 tree species in a cool temperate forest. Ecological Research 20: 41–49.

Peach, K. and Tracey, M.V. 1956. Modern Methods of Plant Analysis. Adelaide, Australia. 368 Pages.

Ranger, J.; Gérard, F.; Lindemann, M.; Gelhaye, D. and Gelhaye, L. 2003. Dynamics of litterfall in a chronosequence of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) stands in the Beaujolais mounts (France). Annals of Forest Science 60: 475–488.

Sanchez, R.G. and Sanchez, J.A. 1995. Litter fall in primary and secondary tropical forests of Mexico. Tropical Ecology 36: 191-201.

Santiago, L.S. and Mulkey, S.S. 2005. Leaf productivity along a precipitation gradient in lowland Panama: patterns from leaf to ecosystem. Structure Function 19(3): 349–356.

Sariyildiz, T. 2008. Effects of gap-size classes on long-term litter decomposition rates of beech, oak and chestnut species at high elevations in Northeast Turkey. Ecosystems 11: 841–853.

Sayer, E.J. 2006. Using experimental manipulation to assess the roles of leaf litter in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Biological Reviews 81: 1–31.

Singh, K.P.; Singh, P.K. and Tripathi, S.K. 1999. Litterfall, litter decomposition and nutrient release patterns in four native tree species raised on coal mine spoil at Sugrauli, India. Biology & Fertility of Soil 29: 371-378.

Singh, R.K.; Dutta, R.K. and Agarwal, M. 2004 Litter decomposition and nutrient release in relation to atmospheric deposition of S and N in a dry tropical region. Pedobiologia 48: 305-311.

Sundarpandian, S.M. and Swamy, P.S. 1999. Litter production and leaf-litter decomposition of selected tree species in tropical forests at Kodayar in the Western Ghats, India. Forest Ecology and Management 123: 231–244.

Swift, M.J.; Heal, O.W. and Anderson, J.W. 1979. Decomposition of terrestrial ecosystems. Blackwell s, Oxford. 372 Page.

Szott, L.T. and Kass, D.C. 1993. Fertilizers in agroforestry. Agroforestry Systems 23: 157-176.

Tian, G.; Brussard, L.; Kang, B.T. and Swift, M. 1997. Soil fauna-mediated decomposition of plant residues under constrained environmental and residue quality conditions. Pages 125-134, In: Cadisch, G.; Giller, K. (Editors.), Driven by Nature: Plant Litter Quality and Decomposition. CABI, Wallingford, UK.

Triadiati, Tjitrosemito, S.; Guhardja, E.; Sudarsono, Qayim, I. and Leuschner, C. 2011 Litterfall production and leaf-litter decomposition at natural forest and Cacao agroforestry in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Asian Journal of Biological Sciences 4(3): 231-234.

Tripathi, O.P.; Pandey, H.N. and Tripathi, R.S. 2009. Litter production, decomposition and physico-chemical properties of soil in 3 developed agroforestry systems of Meghalaya, Northeast India. African Journal of Plant Science 3(8): 160-167.

Vitousek, P.M. 1984. Litter fall, nutrient cycling and nutrient limitation in tropical forests. Ecology 65: 285-298.

Vogt, K.A.; Grier, C.C. and Vogt, D.J. 1986. Production, turnover and nutrient dynamics of above and belowground detritus of world forest. Advances in Ecological Research 15: 303-377.

Wieder, R.K. and Wright, S.J. 1995. Tropical forest litter dynamics and dry season irrigation on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Ecology 76(6): 1971–1979.

Xuluc-Tolosa, F.J.; Vester, H.F.M.; Ramirez-Marcial, N.; Castellanos-Albares and Lawrence, D. 2003. Leaf litter decomposition of tree species in three successional phases of tropical dry secondary forest in Campeche, Mexico. Forest Ecology and Management 174: 401-412.

Yang, Y.S.; Guo, J.F.; Chen, G.S.; He, Z.M. and Xie, J.S. 2003. Effect of slash burning on nutrient removal and soil fertility in Chinese fir and evergreen broadleaved forests of mid-sub-tropical China. Pedosphere 13(1): 87–96.

Zar, J. H. 1974. Biostatistical Analysis. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 718 pages.

Zhou, G.; Guan, L.; Wei, X.; Zhang, D.; Zhang, Q.; Yan, J.; Wen, D.; Liu, J.; Liu, S.; Huang, Z.; Kong, G.; Mo, J. and, Yu, Q. 2007. Litterfall production along successional and altitudinal gradients of subtropical monsoon evergreen broadleaved forests in Guang-dong, China. Plant Ecology 188: 77–89.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

COPYRIGHT of this Journal vests fully with the National Instional Institute of Ecology. Any commercial use of the content on this site in any form is legally prohibited.