Effects of Soil Warming on Organic Matter Decomposition and Soil-Nitrogen Cycling in a High Elevation Red Spruce Stand
Of all the ecosystems located in the southeastern United States, probably the most sensitive to climatic warming is the spruce—fir ecosystem found in the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. This ecosystem has experienced significant disturbances in recent decades, including extensive mortality of mature Fraser fir (Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir.) resulting from an exotic disease carried by the balsam wooly adelgid (White and Cogbill, 1992) and reductions in growth rate (McLaughlin et al., 1987), and in crown condition of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) (Peart et al., 1992). In addition to these recent disturbances, the high elevation spruce—fir ecosystem appears to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of warming of its belowground component. Spruce—fir soils typically have very high storage pools of organic matter, containing large pools of nitrogen (N) (Fernandez, 1992; Joslin et al., 1992). Among the world’s ecosystems, subalpine conifer forests rank very high with respect to the amounts of carbon stored in soil-organic matter (Post et al., 1985). The combination of low mean annual temperature, high moisture, and plant litter that is resistant to decomposition because of high lignin and low N concentrations, results in slow rates of decomposition. In such systems, rates of organic matter production have historically exceeded decomposition rates, resulting in the buildup of soil-organic matter over time.
KeywordsForest Floor Organic Matter Decomposition Soil Warming Ambient Plot Balsam Wooly Adelgid
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