Biotic and abiotic factors regulating forest floor CO2 flux across a range of forest age classes in the southern Appalachians
We measured forest floor CO2 flux in three age classes of forest in the southern Appalachians: 20-year-old, 85-year-old, and old-growth. Our objectives were to quantify differences in forest floor CO2 flux among age classes, and determine the relative importance of abiotic and biotic driving variables. Forest floor CO2 flux was measured using an openflow infrared gas analyzer measurement system for 24h periods and samples were taken every 2 months over a 2-year period. Litter/soil interface, soil temperature (5 cm depth), soil moisture (%), forest floor moisture (%), forest floor mass, fine root ( < 2 mm) mass, coarse root mass ( > 2 mm), forest floor C and N (%), fine root C and N, coarse root C and N, and soil N and C were co-measured during each sample period. Results showed significant nonlinear relationships (r2 = 0.68 to 0.81) between litter/soil interface temperature and forest floor CO2 flux for all three forest age classes, but no differences in temperature response parameters. These results indicated no differences in forest floor CO2 flux among age classes. Considerable temporal variation in abiotic and biotic variables was observed within and among forests. Biotic variables correlated with forest floor CO2 flux included indices of litter and root quality. Differences in biotic variables correlated with forest floor CO2 flux among forests may have been related to shifts in the relative importance of heterotrophic and autotrophic respiration components to overall forest floor CO2 flux.