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Separating Duff and Litter for Improved Mass and Carbon Estimates

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Mass and carbon load estimates, such as those from forest soil organic matter (duff and litter), inform forestry decisions. The US Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program systematically collects data nationwide: a down woody material protocol specifies discrete duff and litter depth measurements, and a soils protocol specifies mass and carbon of duff and litter combined. Sampling duff and litter separately via the soils protocol would increase accuracy of subsequent bulk density calculations and mass and carbon estimates that use them. At 57 locations in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, we measured depth, mass, and carbon of duff and litter separately. Duff depth divided by total depth varied from 20% to 56%, duff was 1‐4 times denser than litter, and the calculated median carbon-to-mass ratio for hardwood duff (0.37) was less than that for litter (0.45). Using FIA depth measurements, we calculated mass from (1) our mean density values, (2) a mass versus depth regression model we developed, and (3) published density values. Model mass calculations were lower than those using our mean densities, possibly because the latter ignore density differences with layer thickness. Our model could provide valuable mass and carbon estimates if fully developed with future FIA data (duff and litter separated).
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Keywords: down woody materials; organic soil horizon; soil survey

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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    Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Southern Journal of Applied Forestry covers an area from Virginia and Kentucky south to as far west as Oklahoma and east Texas.
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