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Rapid rebound of soil respiration following partial stand disturbance by tree girdling in a temperate deciduous forest


Forests serve an essential role in climate change mitigation by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Within a forest, disturbance events can greatly impact C cycling and subsequently influence the exchange of CO2 between forests and the atmosphere. This connection makes understanding the forest C cycle response to disturbance imperative for climate change research. The goal of this study was to examine the temporal response of soil respiration after differing levels of stand disturbance for 3 years at the Black Rock Forest (southeastern NY, USA; oaks comprise 67 % of the stand). Tree girdling was used to mimic pathogen attack and create the following treatments: control, girdling all non-oaks (NOG), girdling half of the oak trees (O50), and girdling all the oaks (OG). Soil respiratory rates on OG plots declined for 2 years following girdling before attaining a full rebound of belowground activity in the third year. Soil respiration on NOG and O50 were statistically similar to the control for the duration of the study although a trend for a stronger decline in respiration on O50 relative to NOG occurred in the first 2 years. Respiratory responses among the various treatments were not proportional to the degree of disturbance and varied over time. The short-lived respiratory response on O50 and OG suggests that belowground activity is resilient to disturbance; however, sources of the recovered respiratory flux on these plots are likely different than they were pre-treatment. The differential taxon response between oaks and non-oaks suggests that after a defoliation or girdling event, the temporal response of the soil respiratory flux may be related to the C allocation pattern of the affected plant group.

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We are grateful to the Ernst C. Stiefel Foundation, the Black Rock Forest Consortium and the Chevron Student Initiative Fund for providing funding for this research. We thank the entire Black Rock Forest staff for logistical support and help with data collection. We also thank Dr. David Madigan and Louis Mittel for statistical consulting, and Dr. Gary Lovett and anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback.

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Correspondence to Jennifer H. Levy-Varon.

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Communicated by Evan DeLucia.

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Levy-Varon, J.H., Schuster, W.S.F. & Griffin, K.L. Rapid rebound of soil respiration following partial stand disturbance by tree girdling in a temperate deciduous forest. Oecologia 174, 1415–1424 (2014).

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  • Soil respiration
  • Autotrophic respiration
  • Forest disturbance
  • Tree girdling
  • Pathogen attack