GONZALEZ POLO Marina
Coarse woody debris stimulates soil enzymatic activity and litter decomposition in an old-growth temperate forest of Patagonia, Argentina
GONZALEZ POLO, M.; FERNÁNDEZ-SOUTO, A.; AUSTIN, A. T.
ECOSYSTEMS (NEW YORK. PRINT)
Lugar: Berlin; Año: 2013 vol. 16 p. 1025 - 1038
In most temperate forest ecosystems, tree mortality over time generates downed logs that accumulate as coarse woody debris (CWD) on the forest floor. These downed logs and trunks have important recognized ecosystem functions including habitat for different organisms and long-term organic C storage. Due to its recalcitrant chemical composition and slow decomposition, CWD can also have direct effects on ecosystem carbon and nutrient turnover. CWD could also cause changes indirectly through the physical and chemical alterations that it generates, although it is not well-understood how important these indirect effects could be for ecosystem processes and soil biogeochemistry. We hypothesized that in an old-growth mature forest, CWD affects carbon and nutrient cycles through its proximity effects, meaning that the forest floor near CWD would have altered soil biotic activity due to the environmental and biogeochemical effects of the presence of CWD. We conducted our study in an old-growth southern beech temperate forest in Patagonia, Argentina, where we estimated and classified the distribution and mass, nutrient pools and decay stage of CWD on the forest floor, and evaluated its impact on litter decomposition, soil mites and soil enzymatic activity of carbon and phosphorus-degrading enzymes. We demonstrate here that CWD in this ecosystem represents an important organic carbon reservoir (85 Mg ha-1) and nitrogen pool (0.42 Mg ha-1), similar in magnitude to other old-growth forests of the Northern Hemisphere. In addition, we found significant proximity effects of CWD, with increased C-degrading soil enzyme activity, decreased mite abundance, and more rapid litter decomposition beneath highly decayed CWD. Considered at the ecosystem scale in this forest, the removal of CWD could cause a decrease of 6% in soil enzyme activity, particularly in the summer dry season, and nearly 15% in annual litter decomposition. We conclude that beyond the established importance of CWD as a long-term carbon reservoir and habitat, CWD contributes functionally to the forest floor by influencing the spatial heterogeneity of microbial activity and carbon and nutrient turnover. These proximity effects demonstrate the importance of maintenance of this ecosystem component and should be taken into consideration for management decisions pertaining to carbon sequestration and functional diversity in natural forest ecosystems.