soil organic matter

Carbon Isotope Characterization of Vegetation and Soil Organic Matter in Subtropical Forests in Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Von Fischer J.C., Tieszen L.L., Carbon Isotope Characterization of Vegetation and Soil Organic Matter in Subtropical Forests in Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Biotropica Vol 27(2), 1995 pp 138-148.

We examined natural abundances of "3C in vegetation and soil organic matter (SOM) of subtropical wet and rain forests to characterize the isotopic enrichment through decomposition that has been reported for temperate forests. Soil cores and vegetative samples from the decomposition continuum (leaves, new litter, old litter, wood, and roots) were taken from each of four forest types in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. SOM 613C was enriched 1.6%o relative to aboveground litter. We found no further enrichment within the soil profile. The carbon isotope ratios of vegetation varied among forests, ranging from -28.2%o in the Colorado forest to -26.9%o in the Palm forest. Isotope ratios of SOM differed between forests primarily in the top 20 cm where the Colorado forest was again most negative at -28.0%o, and the Palm forest was most positive at -26.5%o. The isotopic differences between forests are likely attributable to differences in light regimes due to canopy density variation, soil moisture regimes, and/or recycling of CO2. Our data suggest that recalcitrant SOM is not derived directly from plant lignin since plant lignin is even more "3C depleted than the bulk vegetation. We hypothesize that the anthropogenic isotopic depletion of atmospheric CO2 (ca 1.5%o in the last 150 years) accounts for some of the enrichment observed in the SOM relative to the more modern vegetation in this study and others. This study also supports other observations that under wet or anaerobic soil environments there is no isotopic enrichment during decomposition or with depth in the active profile.

Chemical and mineral control of soil carbon turnover in abandoned tropical pastures

Marín-Spiotta, Erika; Swanston, Christopher W.; Torn, Margaret S.; Silver, Whendee L.; Burton, Sarah D. 2007. Chemical and mineral control of soil carbon turnover in abandoned tropical pastures.. Geoderma, doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2007.10.001.

We investigated changes in soil carbon (C) cycling with reforestation across a long-term, replicated chronosequence of tropical secondary forests regrowing on abandoned pastures. We applied CP MAS 13C NMR spectroscopy and radiocarbon modeling to soil density fractions from the top 10 cm to track changes in C chemistry and turnover during secondary forest establishment on former pastures. Our results showed that interaggregate, unattached, particulate organic C (free light fraction) and particulate C located inside soil aggregates (occluded light fraction) represent distinct soil C pools with different chemical composition and turnover rates. The signal intensity of the O-alkyl region, primarily representing carbohydrates, decreased, and alkyl C, attributed to recalcitrant waxy compounds and microbially resynthesized lipids, increased from plant litter to soil organic matter and with incorporation into soil aggregates. The alkyl/O-alkyl ratio, a common index of humification, was higher in the occluded than in the free light fraction. Greater variability in the chemical makeup of the occluded light fraction suggests that it represents material in varied stages of decomposition. Mean residence times (14C-based) of the free light fraction were significantly shorter (4±1 years) than for the heavy fraction. We report two scenarios for the occluded light fraction, one fast-cycling in which the occluded and free light fractions have similar turnover rates, and one slow-cycling, in which the occluded light fraction resembles the heavy fraction. Mean residence times of the occluded light fraction and heavy fraction in active pastures and 10-year old secondary forests in the earliest stage of succession were longer than in older secondary forests and primary forests. This is likely due to a preferential loss of physically unprotected C of more labile composition in the pastures and in the youngest successional forests, resulting in an increase in the dominance of slow-cycling C pools. Soil carbon turnover rates of the mineral-associated C in secondary forests recovering from abandoned pasture resembled those of primary forests in as little as 20 years of succession.

Litterfall and Decomposition in Relation to Soil Carbon Pools Along a Secondary Forest Chronosequence in Puerto Rico

Ostertag, R.; Marín-Spiotta, E.; Silver, W.L.; Schulten, J. 2008. Litterfall and decomposition in relation to soil carbon pools along a secondary forest chronosequence in Puerto Rico. Ecosystems. 11:701-714.

Secondary forests are becoming increasingly widespread in the tropics, but our understanding of how secondary succession affects carbon (C) cycling and C sequestration in these ecosystems is limited. We used a well-replicated 80-year pasture to forest successional chronosequence and primary forest in Puerto Rico to explore the relationships among litterfall, litter quality, decomposition, and soil C pools. Litterfall rates recovered rapidly during early secondary succession and averaged 10.5 (± 0.1 SE) Mg/ha/y among all sites over a 2-year period. Although forest plant community composition and plant life form dominance changed during succession, litter chemistry as evaluated by sequential C fractions and by 13C-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy did not change significantly with forest age, nor did leaf decomposition rates. Root decomposition was slower than leaves and was fastest in the 60-year-old sites and slowest in the 10- and 30-year-old sites. Common litter and common site experiments suggested that site conditions were more important controls than litter quality in this chronosequence. Bulk soil C content was positively correlated with hydrophobic leaf compounds, suggesting that there is greater soil C accumulation if leaf litter contains more tannins and waxy compounds relative to more labile compounds. Our results suggest that most key C fluxes associated with litter production and decomposition re-establish rapidly—within a decade or two—during tropical secondary succession. Therefore, recovery of leaf litter C cycling processes after pasture use are faster than aboveground woody biomass and species accumulation, indicating that these young secondary forests have the potential to recover litter cycling functions and provide some of the same ecosystem services of primary forests.

At What Temporal Scales Does Disturbance Affect Belowground Nutrient Pools?

At What Temporal Scales Does Disturbance Affect Belowground Nutrient Pools?
Whendee L. Silver, Fred N. Scatena, Arthur H. Johnson, Thomas G. Siccama and Fiona Watt
Vol. 28, No. 4, Part A. Special Issue: Long Term Responses of Caribbean Ecosystems to Disturbances (Dec., 1996), pp. 441-457

We monitored the effects of both harvesting aboveground biomass and Hurricane Hugo on soil chemical and physical properties, and live and dead root biomass over 6 yr in a subtropical wet forest in Puerto Rico. Our goal was to determine how belowground processes changed at different temporal scales including the immediate period prior to revegetation (9 wk), the intermediate period of initial regrowth (9 mo), and the longer-term reorganization of the vegetation and biogeochemical cycling (6 yr). Harvesting resulted in temporary increases in the availability of exchangeable nutrients, but forest floor and soil nutrient pools had generally returned to pre-harvest values over a 9 wk period. Significant amounts of K moved through the soil over this time period, amounting to 29-46 kg/ha-1, and resulting in a reduction in the size of the exchangeable soil K pool. The hurricane deposited approximately 845 kg/ha-1 of forest floor mass and considerable nutrients on the soil surface, and increased soil NO3-N and exchangeable K pools, but in all cases, pool sizes had returned to pre-hurricane values within 9 mo. Examination of the data on an annual time step over the 6 yr period revealed an increase in soil cation pools and a significant decrease in soil pH. No change in soil organic matter was detected at any time step following the disturbances. Live fine root biomass was dramatically reduced as a result of the hurricane, and was only beginning to show signs of recovery near the end of the 6 yr experiment.
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