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Of all the major pools of terrestrial carbon (C), the dynamics of coarse woody debris (CWD) are the least understood. In contrast to soils and living vegetation, the study of CWD has rarely relied on ex situ methods for elaborating controls on decomposition rates. In this study, we report on a mesocosm incubation experiment examining how clay amount (8%, 16%, and 24% clay), clay type (soil reconstructed with kaolinite vs. montmorillonite), wood placement (on litter layer surface, at the litter layer–soil interface, buried in the mineral soil), and laboratory incubation temperature (10°, 20°, or 30°C) control decomposition rates of highly standardized stakes and blocks of coarse aspen wood. Clay type effect was pronounced, with wood decomposing more quickly in kaolinite- than in montmorillonite-amended soils, perhaps due to a combined effect of moisture and microbial access to the substrate. Clay amount had only very limited effect on wood decomposition, which was a function of contact with the mineral soil (Surface < Interface < Mineral), perhaps due to greater contact with the decomposer community. Temperature effects were significant and dependent on interactions with clay type and wood placement. Effects of temperature on wood decomposition declined as the effects of soil variables increased, suggesting a hierarchy of controls on wood decomposition rates. Both water content and temperature had a strong effect on wood decomposition. Our results highlight that multiple interacting factors likely regulate wood decomposition processes. Multifactorial field experiments are needed to examine the physical, chemical, and biological factors controlling wood decomposition

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