Gaps and Soil C Dynamics in Old Growth Northern Hardwood–Hemlock Forests
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- Scharenbroch, B.C. & Bockheim, J.G. Ecosystems (2008) 11: 426. doi:10.1007/s10021-008-9131-6
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Old growth forest soils are large C reservoirs, but the impacts of tree-fall gaps on soil C in these forests are not well understood. The effects of forest gaps on soil C dynamics in old growth northern hardwood–hemlock forests in the upper Great Lakes region, USA, were assessed from measurements of litter and soil C stocks, surface C efflux, and soil microbial indices over two consecutive growing seasons. Forest floor C was significantly less in gaps (19.0 Mg C ha−1) compared to gap-edges (39.5 Mg C ha−1) and the closed forest (38.0 Mg C ha−1). Labile soil C (coarse particulate organic matter, cPOM) was significantly less in gaps and edges (11.1 and 11.2 Mg C ha−1) compared to forest plots (15.3 Mg C ha−1). In situ surface C efflux was significantly greater in gaps (12.0 Mg C ha−1 y−1) compared to edges and the closed forest (9.2 and 8.9 Mg C ha−1 y−1). Microbial biomass N (MBN) was significantly greater in edges (0.14 Mg N ha−1) than in the contiguous forest (0.09 Mg N ha−1). The metabolic quotient (qCO2) was significantly greater in the forest (0.0031 mg CO2 h−1 g−1/mg MBC g−1) relative to gaps or edges (0.0014 mg CO2 h−1 g−1/mg MBC g−1). A case is made for gaps as alleviators of old growth forest soil C saturation. Relative to the undisturbed closed forest, gaps have significantly less labile C, significantly greater in situ surface C efflux, and significantly lower decreased qCO2 values.