Effects of terrestrial isopods on the decomposition of woodland leaf litter

M Hassall, JG Turner, MRW Rands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Citations (Scopus)


The indirect contribution terrestrial isopods make to decomposition processes by stimulating microbial activites has been quantified in laboratory experiments. The extent to which microbial metabolism is enhanced as a result of the passage of Betula pendula leaf litter through the alimentary system of isopods was measured for both freshly fallen and decayed leaves. Faeces derived from 1 g freshly fallen litter lost 75 mg g-1 D.W. more than did intact leaves, as a result of enhanced microbial metabolism. Faeces derived from 1 g of previously decayed leaves, which were shown to be the preferred food of isopods, lost only 17.5 mg g-1 D.W. more than intact decaying leaves. The isopod's direct contribution to soil metabolism was calculated to be 151 mg and 138 mg g-1 litter ingested when fed on freshly fallen and decayed leaves respectively. It is concluded that the physical and chemical changes in the leaf substrate which result from fragmentation and digestion by isopods do not necessarily accelerate the subsequent decomposition of the litter very significantly. Fungal propagule density was 3.2x and 3.6x higher in faeces derived from freshly fallen and decayed leaves respectively than in the intact litter. Numbers of viable bacteria were correspondingly 126x and 34x higher in faeces than in the freshly fallen and the decayed leaves. Levels of microbial inhibitors were lower in the faeces than in the leaves but levels of free amino acids stayed higher for longer in the faeces than they did in intact litter. In the field the physical removal of litter by the soil macrofauna from surface to deeper and moister microsites may be the most important indirect contribution that they make to decomposition processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-604
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1987

Cite this