Barba J., Curiel Yuste J., Martinez-Vilalta J., Lloret F. (2013) Drought-induced tree species replacement is reflected in the spatial variability of soil respiration in a mixed Mediterranean forest. Forest Ecology and Management. 306: 79-87.LinkDoi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2013.06.025
As episodes of drought-induced forest mortality are being increasingly reported worldwide and may become more frequent in the future as a result of climate change, it is essential to characterize their functional implications in terms of ecosystem carbon and water fluxes. We investigated the spatial variability of soil respiration in a mixed Mediterranean forest located on rugged terrain, where Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is affected by drought-induced dieback and appears to have been replaced by Holm oak (Quercus ilex) as the dominant tree species. Soil respiration was measured in spring 2010 on two plots (16.2×16.2m) using a static closed chamber method (soda lime technique) and a systematic sampling (1.8-m grid) including 100 points per plot. Biotic and abiotic variables, such as soil moisture, soil temperature, soil organic matter content, stoniness, pH, fine root C:N ratio and biomass, tree basal area and tree species and health condition of nearest neighbouring tree were also recorded. Our results showed that the spatial variability of soil respiration under optimal environmental conditions (spring) was high and showed no spatial autocorrelation on the scale studied (1-18m). A mixed-effects model applied to explain the spatial variability of soil respiration indicated that only the variables related to forest structure (i.e., health condition and basal area) explained any of the observed variability of soil respiration (R2=0.45). Our model revealed that soil respiration was highest in soils close to dead pines and under Holm oak trees, suggesting that tree mortality and species replacement of pine trees by Holm oak may lead to higher soil respiration fluxes. The direct effect of tree mortality on soil respiration may be a transitory response caused by fine root mortality. Furthermore, the fact that tree species replacement as a result of drought-induced die-off is accompanied by concomitant changes in soil respiration has important implications for soil and ecosystem carbon balance. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
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