, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 325-341
Date: 27 Feb 2008

Fine Root Dynamics and Forest Production Across a Calcium Gradient in Northern Hardwood and Conifer Ecosystems

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Losses of soil base cations due to acid rain have been implicated in declines of red spruce and sugar maple in the northeastern USA. We studied fine root and aboveground biomass and production in five northern hardwood and three conifer stands differing in soil Ca status at Sleepers River, VT; Hubbard Brook, NH; and Cone Pond, NH. Neither aboveground biomass and production nor belowground biomass were related to soil Ca or Ca:Al ratios across this gradient. Hardwood stands had 37% higher aboveground biomass (P = 0.03) and 44% higher leaf litter production (P < 0.01) than the conifer stands, on average. Fine root biomass (<2 mm in diameter) in the upper 35 cm of the soil, including the forest floor, was very similar in hardwoods and conifers (5.92 and 5.93 Mg ha−1). The turnover coefficient (TC) of fine roots smaller than 1 mm ranged from 0.62 to 1.86 y−1 and increased significantly with soil exchangeable Ca (P = 0.03). As a result, calculated fine root production was clearly higher in sites with higher soil Ca (P = 0.02). Fine root production (biomass times turnover) ranged from 1.2 to 3.7 Mg ha−1 y−1 for hardwood stands and from 0.9 to 2.3 Mg ha−1 y−1 for conifer stands. The relationship we observed between soil Ca availability and root production suggests that cation depletion might lead to reduced carbon allocation to roots in these ecosystems.