Soil carbon dynamics after forest harvest: An ecosystem paradigm reconsidered

  • Yanai R
  • Currie W
  • Goodale C
  • 26


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In one of the most influential studies in the recent history of forest ecology, W. W. Covington (1981) described a pattern in organic matter storage in the forest floors of northern hardwood stands as a function of date of harvest. We review the history of the use and misuse of Covington's curve, describe the studies that tested and failed to support early interpretations of the curve, and provide some alternate interpretations. The curve suggested that forest floor organic matter declines by 50% within 20 years after harvest, and this decline was attributed to accelerated decomposition and changes in litter inputs after harvest. Subsequent studies showed that decomposition rates of surface litter generally decrease after clear-cutting, but accelerated decomposition remains possible in the Oe and Oa horizons. Changes in litter inputs are still difficult to evaluate, because the rate at which woody debris enters the forest floor is unknown. Although Covington attempted to minimize variation due to mechanical disturbance during logging, a reasonable alternative explanation for low organic matter in the forest floor of young stands is that surface material is mixed into mineral soil during harvesting operations. The pattern of forest floor organic matter in stands of different ages may be partly due to changes over time in logging technology and the intensity of biomass removal, in addition to successional effects. it is important to distinguish between mechanisms that release carbon to the atmosphere and those that transfer it to the mineral soil before making inferences about nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. [References: 101]

Author-supplied keywords

  • Chronosequence
  • Covington
  • Deciduous forest
  • Decomposition
  • Dissolved organic
  • Fine
  • Forest floor
  • Forest harvest
  • Litter decomposition
  • Northeastern united
  • Northern hardwood forest
  • Paradigm
  • Primary succession
  • Soil carbon model
  • Soil organic matter
  • Southern appalachians
  • Whole
  • Woody debris
  • carbon
  • root dynamics
  • states
  • tree

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  • R D Yanai

  • W S Currie

  • C L Goodale

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