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Long-Term (13 Years) Decomposition Rates of Forest Floor Organic Matter on Paired Coniferous and Deciduous Watersheds with Contrasting Temperature Regimes
AuthorQualls, Robert G.
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Two sets of paired watersheds on north and South facing slopes were utilized to simulate the effects of temperature differences that are on the scale of those expected with near-term climatic warming on decomposition. Two watersheds were pine plantations (Pinus strobus L.) and two were mature deciduous forests established at similar elevation ranges and precipitation at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, but they differed in slope aspect (north vs. South facing), solar radiation, and litter temperature by about 2.0 degrees C. Nylon netting was placed on plots each year for 13 years and litterfall was measured. This time span in which decomposition rate was measured encompassed the time until less than 8% of the initial C remained. Decomposition rates of foliar litter were significantly faster on the slightly warmer watersheds, in both the coniferous and deciduous forests (Analysis of Variance). The turnover rate (year(-1)) was 0.359 (+/- 0.006) for the South facing vs. 0.295 (+/- 0.011) for the North facing coniferous watersheds, and 0.328 (+/- 0.011) vs. 0.297 (+/- 0.012) for the corresponding deciduous watersheds. Turnover rates of pine vs. deciduous broadleaf litter over 13 years were not significantly different because of the high proportion of relatively refractory Quercus spp. in the deciduous litterfall and because of a trend towards convergence of the rates after two years. After a greater decomposition rate in the first year or two, years 2-13 fit a negative exponential curve well (a timespan not well represented in literature) and there was only a small accumulation of humus older than 13 years. The fate of C in litterfall in the South facing deciduous forest was as follows: 14.3% was lost as leaching of dissolved organic C, 2.2% was lost as downward fine particulate matter flux from the bottom of the forest floor, 78.2% was mineralized (by mass balance), leaving only 5.4% of foliar litter after 13 years of decomposition. In these soils with a mor type O horizon, there was evidence that translocation of DOC and in-situ root production must be more important sources of mineral soil organic matter than downward migration of particulate humus.
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