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DECOTAB Methodology

While traditional approaches to study litter decomposition in aquatic environments (e.g. litter bags and cotton strips) can adequately mimic natural conditions in many situations, rigorous tests of the mechanisms responsible for differences in decomposition remain difficult with approaches relying on natural litter that varies in many quality attributes. Selecting individual plant litter species for large-scale studies is only a partial remedy because litter quality can vary widely even within a given plant species.

Filterpaper and cotton strips have therefore been used as substitutes for natural plant litter. Cotton strips, in particular, are used as a standardized substrate for this purpose because they are essentially composed of cellulose, a major component of plant litter. However, the composition of cotton strips is difficult to manipulate, thereby hampering reseachers to experimentally test for effects of specific chemical plant constituents or compounds inhibiting microbial or detritivore activity (e.g., antibiotics, fungicides, insecticides).


DECOTABs offer the oppertunity to overcome these constraints. DECOTABs are essentially an agar-matrix in which cellulose can be added to serve as a standardized substrate, or in which their chemical composition can be adjusted easily for experimental purposes. The method has been described in detail by Kampfraath et al., 2012 in Freshwater Science. The step-by-step protocol can be found here:

Major assets of the DECOTAB approach

   - Simple
   - Cheap
   - Adjustable chemical composition
   - Adjustable size 
   - Adjustable shape


Please use the following citation when using the DECOTAB-approach:

  • Kampfraath, A. A., Hunting, E. R., Mulder, C., Breure, A. M., Gessner, M. O., Kraak, M. H.S., & Admiraal, W. (2012). DECOTAB: a multipurpose standard substrate to assess effects of litter quality on microbial decomposition and invertebrate consumption. Freshwater Science, 31(4), 1156-1162. 
  • Van der Lee, G.H., E.R. Hunting, J.A. Vonk and M.H.S. Kraak. Decomposition and Consumption Tablets (Decotabs).  Methods in Litter Decomposition 2nd edition. Submitted.

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