Soil Respiration Declines Following Beetle - Induced Forest Mortality in a Lodgepole Pine Forest

Monday, 15 December 2014: 3:25 PM
Bujidmaa Borkhuu1, Scott D Peckham1, Urszula Norton1, Brent E Ewers2 and Elise Pendall3, (1)University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, United States, (2)University of Wyoming, Botany, Laramie, WY, United States, (3)University of Western Sydney, Penrith, NSW, Australia
Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) forests in northern Colorado and southeast Wyoming have been undergoing a major mortality event owing to mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) infestation since 2007. We studied biotic and abiotic drivers of growing season soil respiration in four mature stands experiencing different levels of mortality between 2008 and 2012 in the Medicine Bow Mountains, southeastern Wyoming, USA. For five years, beetle infestation significantly altered forest structure. Stand mortality was 30% and more than 80% in stands with the lowest and highest mortality, respectively. Understory vegetation cover increased by 50% for five years following beetle infestation. Needlefall was increased by more than 50% during first two years of beetle infestation compared to the pre-disturbance period. We did not observe an immediate increase in soil respiration following beetle infestation as suggested by some researchers. Soil respiration rates in midsummer ranged from 1.4 ± 0.1 µmol m-2 s-1 in stands with highest mortality to 3.1 ± 0.2 µmol m-2s-1 in uninfested stand. Live tree basal area was the dominant factor controlling soil respiration, explaining more than 60% of the interannual and spatial variations in response to the disturbance. In addition, soil respiration was significantly correlated with fine root biomass, which explained 55% of variations, providing strong evidence that autotrophic respiration dominated the forest soil respiration flux. Furthermore, the seasonality of soil respiration was controlled mainly by mean monthly precipitation and mid-day photosynthetically active radiation. Each factor predicted from 30% to 50% of seasonal soil respiration variability with the highest correlation coefficients in stand with the lowest mortality. Our results clearly indicate that the reduction of photosynthesis in trees over the infestation period significantly reduced soil respiration. The remaining activity in dead stands may be attributed to heterotrophic activity and surviving vegetation. Complex changes in stand structure following beetle infestation are lacking in ecosystem modeling, but these dynamic processes should be included to predict disturbance effects on C cycling.