International Journal of Biometeorology

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 127–134 | Cite as

Leaf litter is an important mediator of soil respiration in an oak-dominated forest

  • Jared L. DeForestEmail author
  • Jiquan Chen
  • Steve G. McNulty
Original Paper


The contribution of the organic (O) horizon to total soil respiration is poorly understood even though it can represent a large source of uncertainty due to seasonal changes in microclimate and O horizon properties due to plant phenology. Our objectives were to partition the CO2 effluxes of litter layer and mineral soil from total soil respiration (SR) and determine the relative importance of changing temperature and moisture mediating the fluxes. We measured respiration in an oak-dominated forest with or without the O horizon for 1 year within the Oak Openings Region of northwest Ohio. Mineral soil and O horizon respiration were subtracted from mineral soil respiration (MSR) to estimate litter respiration (LR). Measurements were grouped by oak phenology to correlate changes in plant activity with respiration. The presence of the O horizon represented a large source of seasonal variation in SR. The timing of oak phenology explained some of the large changes in both SR and LR, and their relationship with temperature and moisture. The contribution to SR of respiration from the mineral soil was greatest during pre-growth and pre-dormancy, as evident by the low LR:MSR ratios of 0.65 ± 0.10 (mean ± SE) and 0.69 ± 0.03, respectively, as compared to the other phenophases. Including moisture increased our ability to predict MSR and SR during the growth phenophase and LR for every phenophase. Temperature and moisture explained 85% of the variation in MSR, but only 60% of the variation in LR. The annual contribution of O horizon to SR was 48% and the ratio of litter to soil respiration was tightly coupled over a wide range of environmental conditions. Our results suggest the presence of the O horizon is a major mediator of SR.


Litter Oak openings Phenology Soil respiration Temporal variation 



The Southern Global Change Program of the USDA Forest Service supported this research. This research was partially supported by the US-China Carbon Consortium (USCCC). Thanks to Sally Betz and Milene Benedict of LEES Lab for assistance in field sampling, and Qinglin Li and Asko Noormets for helpful discussions on the experimental design and site maintenance. We acknowledge the helpful comments made by two anonymous reviewers that improved the quality of this paper.


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Copyright information

© ISB 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jared L. DeForest
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jiquan Chen
    • 2
  • Steve G. McNulty
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Plant BiologyOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of ToledoToledoUSA
  3. 3.Southern Global Change ProgramUSDA Forest ServiceRaleighUSA

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