Litter decomposition traits and home-field advantage

Litter often decomposes faster in its environment of origin (at ‘home’) than in a foreign environment (‘away’), which has become known as the home-field advantage (HFA). However, many studies have highlighted the conditional nature of the HFA, suggesting that current understanding of this phenomenon is not yet sufficient to generalize across systems.

Maple Leaf
Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr.

Davidson Jewell et al. transplant litter types of varying quality between several experimentally established host tree communities differing in functional similarity and measure decomposition rates. They test if the degree of ‘home-field advantage’ (HFA) is determined by the degree of functional similarity between the litter and the home community and find that HFA occurs more strongly for mono-specific litter than for the mixed litter types. However, when expressed as a function of trait similarity between litters and tree communities the HFA is not detected. The results show that the host tree community has an important indirect effect on decomposition above and beyond its effect on litter quality, highlighting the importance of in situ decomposition when investigating non-additive effects of litter mixing.