Drought reduces root respiration in sugar maple forests

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Soil moisture deficits can reduce root respiration, but the effects have yet to be quantified at the stand level or included in models of forest carbon budgets. We studied fine-root (≤1.0 mm diameter) respiration in four sugar maple forests for three growing seasons in order to assess the combined effects of temperature, N concentration, and soil moisture on respiration rates. Fine-root respiration at the four sites was exponentially related to soil temperature and linearly related to root N concentration and soil moisture availability. Most of the variability in respiration rates was explained by temperature. Differences in soil moisture availability explained temporal variation within sites in respiration rate at a given temperature, whereas differences among sites in respiration rates resulted from site-specific differences in fine-root N concentration. Periodic moisture deficits during 1995 and 1996 were sufficient to cause declines of up to 17% in total growing-season root respiration at affected sites. Estimated reductions in respiration of up to 0.8 Mg C/ha during dry years were equivalent to a significant portion of annual aboveground woody biomass C increment, arguing for the inclusion of soil moisture availability as a predictor of root respiration when modeling C allocation in forest ecosystems.

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Ecological Applications