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Carbon and Nitrogen Cycling in Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests

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Abstract:

Ponderosa pine forests of the southwestern United States were historically characterized by relatively open, parklike stands with a bunchgrass-dominated understory. This forest structure was maintained by frequent, low-intensity surface fires. Heavy livestock grazing, fire suppression, and favorable weather conditions following Euro-American settlement in the late 19th century resulted in a dramatic increase in pine regeneration. Today, many of these forest stands have high stand densities with low understory production, and are susceptible to infrequent, stand-replacing fires. The primary objective of our study was to better characterize the contemporary carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling processes in relatively unmanaged southwestern ponderosa pine stands. We then compared these ecosystem conditions with those of an adjacent stand that had received an ecological restoration treatment that included thinning and prescribed burning. Our results suggest that N availability and aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) of trees in these forests are low compared to other forests. Restoration treatments decreased ANPP but increased the proportion of ANPP in woody tissues. These treatments also increased soil respiration, water availability, temperature, and net nitrification, but had no effect on net N mineralization and microbial N. We speculate that the understory response to restoration treatments is a key factor affecting the overall ecosystem response in these forests.

Keywords: Microbial biomass; nitrification; nitrogen mineralization; productivity; soil respiration

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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