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Root Decomposition and Nutrient Flux Following Whole-Tree Harvest of Northern Hardwood Forest

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Decomposition of roots of four dominant species (Acer saccharum, Betula alleghaniensis, Fagus grandifolia, Picea rubens) in a northern hardwood ecosystem was measured following whole-tree harvest of watershed 5 at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire. To quantify the importance of element release from tree root systems after forest harvest, measurements of macronutrient (N, K, P, Ca, Mg) release from roots of seven diameter (mm) classes (< 0.6, 0.6-1.0, 1.0-2.5, 2.5-5.0, 5-10, 10-20, 20-100) were combined with information on root system nutrient content. Decay of fine roots (all species) was initially rapid but declined abruptly after the first summer. Ash-free weight loss from small woody roots decreased with increasing root diameter and was much slower than decay rates for corresponding aboveground tissues (twigs and branches). Weight loss rates among species generally were not significantly different; however, large woody roots (10-100 mm diameter) of sugar maple decayed much more rapidly than the other species. Rapid release of K and Mg was observed for all roots. Initially high rates of N and P release were observed for fine roots, whereas these nutrients were effectively retained in decaying woody roots. Retention of Ca was observed for all roots, and significant accumulation of Ca was observed in the larger size classes of woody roots. Particularly for N and K, release from decaying roots was an important nutrient flux pathway supplying stream outflow and vegetation regrowth in the first two years following forest harvest. For Sci. 34(3):744-768.

Keywords: Mineralization; nutrient content; root biomass; root channels; watershed

Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

Publication date: September 1, 1988

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.702
    Ranking: 16 of 66 in forestry

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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