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Chemical transformations of deadwood and foliar litter of mixed boreal species during decomposition

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Deadwood constitutes an important input of carbon to soil, but its role in carbon sequestration over the long term is not well documented in the eastern boreal forests of Canada, especially when compared with foliar litter. The objectives of this study were to characterize and compare patterns of mass loss and changes in chemical composition of deadwood and foliar litter of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.), white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss), and balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.) during a 5- to 6-year period of field decomposition, using litterbags, solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance analysis, and lignin monomer quantification by cupric oxide oxidation. The maximum decomposition limit was similar between foliar litter and wood material, but foliar litter decomposed faster, reached the estimated maximum decomposition limit, and converged to a composition rich in alkyl, phenolic, and carbonyl carbon. However, wood did not reach the estimated maximum decomposition limit and underwent relatively little chemical changes, remaining with high carbohydrate content. At the end of the experiment, aspen wood still had a lower lignin concentration than that of conifers, but contained higher proportions of alkyl and carbonyl carbon. Although wood contributes to a greater diversity in the chemical composition of the forest floor, foliar litter, which keeps a high alkyl C content throughout its decay, could generate more recalcitrant residual organic matter.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Chaire en Aménagement Forestier Durable, Université du Québec en Abitibi–Témiscamingue, 445 boulevard de l’Université, Rouyn–Noranda, QC J9X 5E4, Canada. 2: Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, 442 Earth Sciences Bldg, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E3, Canada. 3: Department of Chemistry, Mokpo National University, Muan, Chonnam 534-729, Republic of Korea.

Publication date: April 12, 2012

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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