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Opening the Forest Canopy Slows Leaf Decomposition and Nutrient Cycling

Photo of D. Jean Lodge measuring the extent of mushroom mycelia on the forest floor three months after a simulated hurricane treatment in which limbs and leaves were trimmed from the canopy and deposited on the forest floor in the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico. Josh Brown, University of New HampshireD. Jean Lodge measuring the extent of mushroom mycelia on the forest floor three months after a simulated hurricane treatment in which limbs and leaves were trimmed from the canopy and deposited on the forest floor in the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico. Josh Brown, University of New HampshireSnapshot : Forest canopies are opened by thinning, logging operations, and storms. Results of a simulated hurricane experiment showed canopy opening had the greatest effect in slowing leaf decomposition and nutrient release. Losses of nitrogen to ground water only occurred when the limbs and leaves were transferred from the canopy to the forest floor.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Lodge, D. Jean 
Research Location : Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico
Research Station : Forest Products Laboratory (FPL)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 909

Summary

Opening a forest, whether by storm damage, tree harvesting, or thinning, dries the forest floor and reduces the ability of the litter layer to retain mineral nutrients needed for tree growth. A simulated hurricane experiment in the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico showed that less phosphorus was conserved by fungi when the canopy was opened. The number of fungal connections between litter layers and the rate of leaf decomposition were also reduced when the canopy was opened. Nitrogen was leached into the ground water only in the simulated hurricane treatment in which limbs and leaves were transferred from the canopy to the forest floor. Leaching of nitrogen into groundwater in the simulated hurricane treatment closely matched the timing and magnitude of nitrogen transfers to ground water and losses from the ecosystem via streams that was observed after Hurricanes Hugo and George. Surprisingly, the soil microbial community responded more to differences in temperature and rainfall between years than to the canopy and debris addition treatments. This suggests that soil microbes are highly sensitive to climate change.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez, IITF
  • Dr. Aaron Shiels, US Fish & Wildlife, Hilo, Hawaii
  • Dr. Dr. Jess K. Zimmerman, Univ. of Puerto Rico
  • Dr. Jose Perez-Jimenez, Univ. of Turabo, Puerto Rico
  • Dr. Marirosa Molina, EPA, Athens, GA
  • Dr. Michael Willig, Univ. of Connecticut
  • Dr. Sharon A. Cantrell, Univ. del Turabo in Puerto Rico

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