The forest floor characteristics and C accumulation rate of black spruce forests across a climate gradient

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jason G Vogel, Texas A&M, College Station, TX, United States and Edward A G Schuur, Northern Arizona University, Biology, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
In the North American boreal forest, black spruce forests accumulate a C pool in the FF that is often greater than the vegetation C pool. In addition, the FF’s insulating properties help maintain colder soil temperatures and inhibit the microbial decomposition of ‘deep’ soil C. To estimate how climate change might alter the FF of black spruce forests, we examined the C accumulation rate and characteristics (percent wood, fine roots, moss, and needles; and bulk density) of the FF for three stands in four climatic regions of Alaska. Mean annual temperature ranged from -2.9 °C to 2.3 °C and precipitation from 263 mm to 716 mm and the two climatic variables correlated with one another. Both climatic factors were unrelated with the total C stored in the FF or its rate of C accumulation, despite trees growing faster with warmer and wetter average conditions. Although FF mass was similar across regions, its thickness decreased with temperature and precipitation, reflecting a significant increase in bulk density. The change in bulk density could have been from a shift in constituents because the warmer and wetter regions accumulated more wood and less fine root material. The shift between these two constituents may have also been the reason that the FF mass remained unchanged across the climate gradient because wood has a decomposition rate that is ~10% of fine roots. Although these results suggest that there will be little change in FF mass under warmer and wetter conditions, the increase in FF bulk density will amplify the warming of the mineral soil because of the increase in FF thermal conductivity.