COS 77-8 - Disturbance and decoupling of belowground carbon and nitrogen cycles in a northern temperate forest

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:00 PM
10A, Austin Convention Center
Lucas E. Nave, University of Michigan Biological Station, Pellston, MI, Knute Nadelhoffer, Director, UM Biological Station (Pellston, MI), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, James Le Moine, University of Michigan, Brady Hardiman, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, Jed P. Sparks, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Brian Strahm, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, Alexandra Munoz, New York University School of Medicine, Christopher M. Gough, Department of Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, Christoph S. Vogel, University of Michigan Biological Station, University of Michigan, Pellston, MI and Peter S. Curtis, Evolution, Ecology, & Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

Belowground carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles are tightly coupled in many northern temperate forests. However, disturbances that cause tree mortality can decouple linkages between belowground components of these biogeochemical cycles. We measured a suite of belowground processes following a treatment to accelerate the natural senescence of early-successional dominants in a northern temperate forest, hypothesizing that tree mortality would decrease belowground C allocation, increase belowground N availability and cycling rates, and trigger N leaching in this highly N-limited forest. In the Forest Accelerated Succession ExperimenT, we stem girdled >6700 aspen and birch trees (39% of basal area) on 40 ha of forestland at the University of Michigan Biological Station to test these and other hypotheses related to forest development and biogeochemistry.


Here, we present the cascade of changes in belowground C and N cycling that occurred in the first two growing seasons following initiation of FASET in April 2008.  Aspen and birch mortality decreased stand-level fine root nonstructural carbohydrate contents, accelerating fine root turnover and causing a net reduction in fine root biomass. These decreases in belowground C allocation and root functioning increased forest floor net NH4+ availability, which accelerated nitrification rates, increased net NO3- availability, and led to small NO3- leaching losses. These belowground perturbations were registered by the forest canopy through shifts in foliar 13C and 15N natural abundances, which indicated water stress among girdled aspens and faster, leakier cycling in a source N pool shared by foliage of all tree species. We interpret the results of this initial disturbance phase of the FASET study in the context of our conceptual model of N availability and ecosystem C storage over longer-term (successional) time scales. We predict that, following minor N leaching losses during disturbance, reorganization of belowground N cycling along a more active, faster-cycling trajectory will enable the forest to increase rates of C storage during its next successional stage, promoting resilience of C and N cycling to this experimental disturbance.

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