Ecosystem processes along an urban-to-rural gradient
In order to understand the effect of urban development on the functioning of forest ecosystems, during the past decade we have been studying red oak stands located on similar soil along an urban-rural gradient running from New York City ro rural Litchfield County, Connecticut. This paper summarizes the results of this work. Field measurements, controlled laboratory experiments, and reciprocal transplants documented soil pollution, soil hydrophobicity, litter decomposition rates, total soil carbon, potential nitrogen mineralization, nitrification, fungal biomass, and earthworm populations in forests along the 140 × 20 km study transect. The results revealed a complex urban-rural environmental gradient. The urban forests exhibit unique ecosystem structure and function in relation to the suburban and rural forest stands these are likely linked to stresses of the urban environment such as air pollution, which has also resulted in elevated levels of heavy metals in the soil, the positive effects of the heat island phenomenon, and the presence of earthworms. The data suggest a working model to guide mechanistic work on the ecology of forests along urban-to-rural gradients, and for comparison of different metropolitan areas.
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