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Effects of stand age, wildfire and clearcut harvesting on forest floor in boreal mixedwood forests

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Abstract

Carbon (C) in the forest floor (FF) of the boreal region is an important reservoir of terrestrial C. We examined the effects of stand age and disturbance type (clearcutting vs. wildfire) on quantity and quality of organic C of FF in a boreal mixedwood forest of central Canada. Forest floor samples were collected from 6 post-fire (2- to 203-year-old) and 3 post-harvest age classes (2- to 28-year-old) on mesic sites, each randomly replicated three times. Samples were analyzed to determine the physical and chemical properties and the C quality was assessed by quantifying C fractions as easily labile, moderately labile and recalcitrant. Bulk density, total organic C concentration, N concentration and the cation exchange capacity increased with stand age and peaked at 85-year-old sites. Soil pH and concentration of P and K decreased with stand age. In post-fire stands, the depth of FF, total organic C, and labile C fractions increased with stand age in the 2- to 85-year-old stands, while recalcitrant C was lower in 2-year-old stands than older stands. In stands ≤28 years old, post-harvest sites had significantly higher concentration of total organic C and the three C fractions than post-fire sites in 2-year-old stands. No or marginal difference occurred between the two stand origins in 10- and 28-year-old stands. The relative proportions of C fractions did not differ with stand age or stand origin. Our results showed that the quantity of organic C in FF of boreal mixedwoods increased with stand development till 85 years and then slightly decreased in older stands, and post-harvest stands had a higher amount of organic C than post-fire stands immediately after disturbance, but the effect of two disturbances on C in FF converged shortly (within 10 years). The quality of organic C remains the same through stand development and between the two studied stand origins.

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Acknowledgements

We thank field and laboratory assistance from Zhiyou Yuan, Meelis Sedree, Changui Wei, and Derek J. Lawrence. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The financial support from Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Sustainable Forest Management Network of Centre of Excellence, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is highly appreciated.

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Correspondence to Han Y. H. Chen.

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Shrestha, B.M., Chen, H.Y.H. Effects of stand age, wildfire and clearcut harvesting on forest floor in boreal mixedwood forests. Plant Soil 336, 267–277 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-010-0475-2

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