Soil Respiration along Environmental Gradients in Olympic National Park

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Although mountainous landscapes dominate large areas of the Earth, our understanding of how elevation and aspect influence soil respiration in complex mountainous terrain is very limited. Therefore, we measured soil respiration throughout the growing season in 1999 and 2000 at 11 forested sites in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA along elevation-climatic gradients. The study sites ranged from temperate rain forest to alpine forests near tree line. Soil temperature was a significant predictor of soil respiration at all sites, and soil moisture explained additional variability at three sites (R2 from 0.42 to 0.90, P ≤ 0.01). Soil temperatures at the highest-elevation sites were 4.5°C cooler than those at the lowest elevation, but there were no relationships between soil respiration rates at a given temperature and elevation or mean annual temperature that would indicate acclimation of soil respiration to the cooler temperatures at high-elevation sites, Experimental urea additions (1.0 and 2.0 g N m-2 y-1) made at seven of the sites had no consistent effect on soil respiration. Total soil carbon dioxide (CO2) efflux during the growing season (May-September) varied from 0.34 to 0.75 kg C/m2 and was greater at low-elevation sites with warmer soil temperatures and longer growing seasons. Elevation and the length of the frost-free season could both be used to predict growing season (r2 = 0.53) and annual (r2 = 0.81) soil CO 2 efflux for the 10 sites located in steep mountainous terrain, Significant correlations also existed with mean annual temperature. These results suggest that warmer soils and a longer snow-free season associated with climatic warming could cause the mountainous ecosystems of the Olympic peninsula to evolve increasing amounts of CO2 from all elevations and aspects.

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