Decomposition and change in N and organic composition of small-diameter Douglas-fir woody debris over 23 years

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Managing second-growth forests for multiple benefits requires enhanced information on decomposition of woody debris generated during forestry operations. Experimental thinning and biomass sampling at the Shawnigan Lake Research Forest on southern Vancouver Island facilitated retrospective sampling of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) stem sections (4.9–21.5 cm diameter) from 0 to 23 years after cutting. A sigmoidal pattern of density loss was observed, while a single-exponential fit gave a decay rate (k) of 0.058 year–1. Initial N concentrations were higher in bark than in sapwood and heartwood, and all increased during decay, while C/N ratios declined to around 175 for wood and 70 for bark. Nitrogen contents initially increased but tended to decline after about 50% C loss. Solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed little change in organic composition, consistent with white-rot fungal decay, with only a few 19-year samples showing large increases in lignin typical of extensive brown-rot decay. Hydrolyzable monosaccharides of wood and bark were dominated by glucose followed by mannose, xylose, galactose, and arabinose. For wood, the mole fraction of mannose decreased with decomposition, whereas those of glucose, arabinose, and galactose increased slightly and that of xylose remained constant for both brown and white rot. Our results support indications that decomposition of smaller diameter woody debris from managed conifer forests will likely be dominated by white-rot fungi, leaving residues high in cellulose rather than in lignin.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 23, 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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