Colorado mountains
From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

How deep does disturbance go? The long-term effects of canopy disturbance on tropical forest soil biogeochemistry

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Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
Omar Gutierrez De...
Whendee Silver

We used the Canopy Trimming Experiment (CTE), an ongoing ecosystem manipulation study in the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF), Puerto Rico to determine the decadal-scale effects of canopy disturbance and debris deposition on biogeochemistry throughout the soil profile of a wet tropical forest. These manipulations represent the most significant effects of hurricanes, which may increase in frequency or intensity with warming, strengthening their ecosystem-level effects on carbon (C) and nutrient cycling. Four replicated treatments were applied in 2005 using a complete randomized block design: canopy trimming + debris deposition, canopy trimming only, debris deposition only, and untreated control. In 2015, we sampled soils at 10 cm intervals to 1 m depth in each of 12 plots (3 per treatment). We measured gravimetric moisture content, pH, HCl and citrate-ascorbate (CA) extractable iron (Fe) species, organic (Po) and inorganic fractions of NaHCO3 and NaOH phosphorus (P), as well as total C and nitrogen (N). Soil moisture decreased markedly with depth up to ~60-70 cm, and then stabilized at ~33% down to 1 m. Across all treatments, pH increased significantly with depth, ranging from 4.6 in surface soils (0-10 cm) of trimmed plots to 5.2 in deep soils (80-90 cm) of control plots. Canopy trimming decreased pH significantly, possibly due to increased root activity in surface soils as vegetation recovered. Both HCl and CA extractable Fe showed strong depth dependance, decreasing linearly to 50 cm, and stabilizing at very low concentrations (<0.2 mg/g) down to 1 m. Inorganic P concentrations were low and did not vary significantly with depth. The majority of P was associated with organic matter, with significantly higher values in the upper soil profile (<50 cm). Debris deposition significantly increased Po, revealing the role of hurricanes in subsidizing the available soil P pool in these highly productive, low-P wet tropical forests. Debris deposition also increased soil C and N concentrations in surface soils (<20 cm). Our results suggest that the dominant effects of disturbance are limited to the upper soil profile in this wet tropical forest. However, effects were persistent and detectable after ten years of the CTE, suggesting that hurricanes result in long-term changes in tropical forest biogeochemistry.

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