, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 175–190 | Cite as

Soil freezing alters fine root dynamics in a northern hardwood forest

  • Geraldine L. TierneyEmail author
  • Timothy J. Fahey
  • Peter M. Groffman
  • Janet P. Hardy
  • Ross D. Fitzhugh
  • Charles T. Driscoll


The retention of nutrients within an ecosystem depends on temporal andspatial synchrony between nutrient availability and nutrient uptake, anddisruption of fine root processes can have dramatic impacts on nutrientretention within forest ecosystems. There is increasing evidence thatoverwinter climate can influence biogeochemical cycling belowground,perhaps by disrupting this synchrony. In this study, we experimentallyreduced snow accumulation in northern hardwood forest plots to examinethe effects of soil freezing on the dynamics of fine roots (< 1 mm diameter)measured using minirhizotrons. Snow removal treatment during therelatively mild winters of 1997–1998 and 1998–1999 induced mild freezingtemperatures (to −4 °C) lasting approximately three months atshallow soil depths (to −30 cm) in sugar maple and yellow birch stands.This treatment resulted in elevated overwinter fine root mortality in treatedcompared to reference plots of both species, and led to an earlier peak infine root production during the subsequent growing season. These shiftsin fine root dynamics increased fine root turnover but were not largeenough to significantly alter fine root biomass. No differences inmorality response were found between species. Laboratory tests on pottedtree seedlings exposed to controlled freezing regimes confirmed that mildfreezing temperatures (to −5 °C) were insufficient to directlyinjure winter-hardened fine roots of these species, suggesting that themarked response recorded in our forest plots was caused indirectly bymechanical damage to roots in frozen soil. Elevated fine root necromass intreated plots decomposed quickly, and may have contributed an excess fluxof about 0.5 g N/m2·yr, which is substantial relative tomeasurements of N fluxes from these plots. Our results suggest elevatedoverwinter mortality temporarily reduced fine root length in treatmentplots and reduced plant uptake, thereby disrupting the temporalsynchrony between nutrient availability and uptake and enhancing ratesof nitrification. Increased frequency of soil freezing events, as may occurwith global change, could alter fine root dynamics within the northernhardwood forest disrupting the normally tight coupling between nutrientmineralization and uptake.

belowground production global change minirhizotron plant-soil interactions winter 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geraldine L. Tierney
    • 1
    Email author
  • Timothy J. Fahey
    • 2
  • Peter M. Groffman
    • 3
  • Janet P. Hardy
    • 4
  • Ross D. Fitzhugh
    • 5
  • Charles T. Driscoll
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA (author for correspondence; e-mail
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Box ABMillbrookUSA
  4. 4.Cold Regions Research and Engineering LaboratoryU.S. ArmyHanoverUSA
  5. 5.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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