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Long term effects of intensive biomass harvesting and compaction on theforest soil ecosystem

Lewandowski, T. E.,J. A. Forrestera, D. J. Mladenoffa, E. Marin-Spiottab,A. W. D Amato, B. J. Palik and R. K. Kolka. 2019.


Forest soil ecosystems can be negatively affected by intensive biomass harvesting due to losses of organic input sand soil compaction, ultimately leading to reduced forest productivity. In this research, we revisited a site from the North American Long-Term Soil Productivity study located on a sandy Spodosol within the Huron National Forest in Michigan, USA, to measure the effects of above ground organic matter removal of different intensities(three levels: bole only; whole tree harvest; or whole tree harvest and forest floor removal) and soil compaction(2 levels: no or moderate compaction) nearly 20 years following the initial treatments. The effects of harvesting on the soil microbial community in surface and subsurface soils and on soil nutrient availability in surface soils were evaluated. Additionally, patterns of carbon and nitrogen distribution among soil organic matter pools in surface and subsurface soils were compared using a physical fractionation approach to isolate a free - light fraction of particulate organic matter external to aggregates, an occluded- light fraction, which represent sparticulate organic matter released from the disruption of soil aggregates, and a heavy or mineral-associated fraction. Whole-tree harvests had significantly different microbial community compositions than bole-only harvests (P = 0.02), a result driven by significantly lower abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizae and greater gram positive bacterial abundance in the whole-tree harvest relative to bole-only harvest conditions. Few differences in soil nutrient availability were apparent 20 years after organic matter manipulations, with the exception of reduced calcium availability where organic matter was removed. Soil compaction resulted in greater microbial biomass (0.19 versus 0.14umol g-1soil), which may have also led to a reduced C:N ratio in the heaviest and oldest soil component and increased P availability as well. Nitrogen concentrations and stocks were greatest at the surface (0-10 cm depth) for the free and light soil fractions in bole-only removal treatments, in contrast to whole-tree harvest treatments where C and N concentrations and C stocks were greater in the sub-surface soil (free - light fraction at 20-30 cm depth). The soil microbial community, soil fraction size, and soil C and N stocks differed between surface and subsurface soils, highlighting the soil forming processes at work in this Spodosol, and the importance of sampling multiple depths to address research questions. These results demonstrate the long-term effects of forest management on soil biological, physical, and chemical properties and are useful in evaluating sustainable biomass harvesting practices for comparable forests.

Key Words

Biomass harvestSoil compactionSoil organic matter Density fractionationSoil microbial communitySoil nutrient availability