Springer

Stocks, Chemistry, and Sensitivity to Climate Change of Dead Organic Matter Along the Canadian Boreal Forest

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Abstract

Improving our ability to predict the impact of climate change on the carbon (C) balance of boreal forests requires increased understanding of site-specific factors controlling detrital and soil C accumulation. Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and black spruce (Picea mariana) stands along the Boreal Forest Transect Case Study (BFTCS) in northern Canada have similar C stocks in aboveground vegetation and large woody detritus, but thick forest floors of poorly-drained black spruce stands have much higher C stocks, comparable to living biomass. Their properties indicate hindered decomposition and N cycling, with high C/N ratios, strongly stratified and depleted δ13C and δ15N values, high concentrations of tannins and phenolics, and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra typical of poorly decomposed plant material, especially roots and mosses. The thinner jack pine forest floor appears to be dominated by lichen, with char in some samples. Differences in quantity and quality of aboveground foliar and woody litter inputs are small and unlikely to account for the contrasts in forest floor accumulation and properties. These are more likely associated with site conditions, especially soil texture and drainage, exacerbated by increases in sphagnum coverage, forest floor depth, and tannins. Small changes in environmental conditions, especially reduced moisture, could trigger large C losses through rapid decomposition of forest floor in poorly drained black spruce stands in this region.

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