Don’t drink it, bury it: comparing decomposition rates with the tea bag index is possible without prior leaching

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  • Gesche Blume-Werry
  • Vanessa Di Maurizio
  • Ilka Beil
  • Lett, Signe
  • Sarah Schwieger
  • Juergen Kreyling

Purpose: The standardized ‘Tea Bag Index’ enables comparisons of litter decomposition rates, a key component of carbon cycling, across ecosystems. However, tea ‘litter’ may leach more than other plant litter, skewing comparisons of decomposition rates between sites with differing moisture conditions. Therefore, some researchers leach tea bags before field incubation. This decreases comparability between studies, and it is unclear if this modification is necessary. Methods: We submerged green and rooibos tea bags in water, and measured their leaching losses over time (2 min – 72 h). We also compared leaching of tea to leaf and root litter from other plant species, and finally, compared mass loss of pre-leached and standard tea bags in a fully factorial incubation experiment differing in soil moisture (wet and dry) and soil types (sand and peat). Results: Both green and rooibos tea leached strongly, levelling-off at about 40% and 20% mass loss, respectively. Mass loss from leaching was highest in green tea followed by leaves of other plants, then rooibos tea, and finally roots of other plants. When incubated for 4 weeks, both teas showed lower mass loss when they had been pre-leached compared to standard tea bags. However, these differences between standard and pre-leached tea bags were similar in moist vs. dry soils, both in peat and in sand. Conclusions: Thus, despite large leaching losses, we conclude that leaching tea bags before field or lab incubation is not necessary to compare decomposition rates between systems, ranging from as much as 5% to 25% soil moisture.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)613-621
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Decomposition rates, Early-stage decomposition, Leaching, Soil moisture, Tea bag index, Teabags

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