Winter stemflow nutrient inputs into a southern New England broadleaved deciduous forest
Stemflow leaching from the above-ground vegetative surfaces of broadleaved deciduous canopy trees has been well documented during the growing season. Winter stemflow leaching from the leafless crowns of deciduous trees is less well understood, especially in the context of global climate change. Boreal and northern temperate forests are forecast to have a lower incidence of snow events and an increased frequency of rain and mixed precipitation events. A change in the seasonal precipitation regime may be significant due to linkages among global change, stemflow leaching, and biogeochemical processes. The aim of this paper is to (1) demonstrate the extent of winter stemflow nutrient leaching from deciduous trees; (2) explore how winter stemflow leachate quantity may vary as a function of the type of precipitation event; and (3) quantify the extent to which an increase in the incidence of snow-to-rain events would enhance stemflow leaching. Measuring meteorological conditions, stemflow volumes, and stemflow chemistry over two successive winter seasons in New England demonstrated that winter stemflow drainage was significantly enriched compared to the incident bulk precipitation: 162 times greater for K+, 44 times greater for Ca2+, and 29 times greater for Mg2+. Snow-to-rain events leached considerably greater quantities of base cations from the deciduous trees than all other types of precipitation events. An increased frequency of snow-to-rain events from 13.8% to 25% of winter precipitation events would substantially increase mean stemflow nutrient inputs to the bases of forest trees during winter. Implications for significantly increased winter stemflow leachate inputs, corresponding to an increased incidence of snow-to-rain events, include a shift in the biogeographic range of species, delayed leaf emergence, and increased soil respiration.