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Leaf decomposition and fine fuels in floodplain forests of the Rio Negro in the Brazilian Amazon

  • Aline Ramos dos Santos (a1) and Bruce Walker Nelson (a1)


Despite being inundated for up to 9 mo of the year, black-water floodplain forests in the Brazilian Amazon are susceptible to fire. Post-fire tree mortality is higher and fire spreads further in the floodplain, compared with adjacent upland forest. To understand these differences between the two forest types, we compared how leaf decomposition and fine-fuel loads change with inundation and soil texture. Litterbags containing leaves of Clitoria fairchildiana were placed on upland forest floor and submerged at two depths in a backwater of the Rio Negro. We used 80 bags per treatment and retrieved subsets every ~16 d from which the contents were cleaned, dried, weighed and discarded. Over the 81-d experiment, upland leaves decomposed two to three times faster than submerged leaves. Fine-fuel biomass (litter + root mat) was measured at 28 upland forest sites and 29 floodplain forest sites of the middle Rio Negro. Floodplain forests held about twice the fine fuel (25.9 ± 10.6 Mg ha−1) of uplands (10.9 ± 2.3 Mg ha−1). Upland soils had more sand but a carpet of fine apogeotropic tree roots was more common and thicker in floodplains. We infer that slow decomposition of submerged leaves leads to high tree mortality from fire in black-water floodplains by (1) increasing fire intensity due to high fine-litter fuel load and (2) making tree roots more vulnerable to burning because they form a peat-like mat to absorb nutrients from the thick litter.


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Journal of Tropical Ecology
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