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Litter Decomposition (Litter bags)

  • Soil Health

  • Biological


Measuring litter decomposition allows for the comparison of decomposition rates in an ecosystem across different time periods (Arias et al., 2005).

Litter decomposition is a key process in nutrient cycling, it can be linked to carbon cycling and microbial activity (Guerra et al., 2021; FAO Soil doctor). The decomposed organic matter releases nutrients to the soil (Wagg et al., 2014). It is primarily driven by microbial activity and its measurement can provide insights into the health of the microbial community (FAO Soil doctor).

Changes in decomposition rates may signal disturbances in the soil ecosystem, such as pollution, compaction, or changes in land use (Wagg et al., 2014).

Methodology summary

The approach involves measuring the reduction in mass of a specific organic material. A predetermined mass of organic material (like a tea bag) is buried in the field for a specified duration and later dug up to calculate how much weight is lost during the field incubation.

Detailed methodology on measuring litter decomposition using teabags can be found at Soil Testing Methods from FAO pg. 24-34 -

Metric threshold or direction of change

Not applicable


  • Agricultural
  • Forest
  • Grassland
  • Peatland
  • Saltmarsh
  • Wetland


  • Community


  • Low


  • Tier 1

Technical expertise

  • Low

Standardised methodology

  • Yes