A bit of a side track to my regular research, as I tend to look at aboveground processes on a large (community ecology) scale.
Currently I am however involved in two projects that link to litter decomposition. One in which we bury tea bags in the mountains to participate in the global Tea Bag Index, a cheap but accurate global measure of decomposition speed.
Another were I help modelling the relation of litter decomposition speed to climatic variables.
Getting to know the details about the decomposition of organic matter is a key part in our growing understanding of climate change, as it is a fundamental part of the cycle driving the movement of elements like carbon and nitrogen throughout the ecosystem. The latter is in its turn strong interwoven with the causes and effects of climate change.
We now proved with data from a large European gradient that the rates at which this plant litter decomposes strongly depends on the climate. Temperature, precipitation and water content of the soil, all of them influenced how much of the litter remained, and which elements to find in the remaining parts.