Soil carbon sequestration and changes in fungal and bacterial biomass following incorporation of forest residues
Sequestering carbon (C) in forest soils can benefit site fertility and help offset greenhouse gas emissions. However, identifying soil conditions and forest management practices which best promote C accumulation remains a challenging task. We tested whether soil incorporation of masticated woody residues alters short-term C storage at forested sites in western and southeastern USA. Our hypothesis was that woody residues would preferentially stimulate soil fungal biomass, resulting in improved C use efficiency and greater soil C storage. Harvest slash at loblolly pine sites in South Carolina was masticated (chipped) and either (1) retained on the soil surface, (2) tilled to a soil depth of 40 cm, or (3) tilled using at least twice the mass of organics. At comparative sites in California, live woody fuels in ponderosa pine stands were (1) masticated and surface applied, (2) masticated and tilled, or (3) left untreated. Sites with clayey and sandy soils were compared in each region, with residue additions ranging from 20 to 207 Mg ha1. Total and active fungal biomass were not strongly affected by residue incorporation despite the high input of organics. Limited response was also found for total and active bacterial biomass. As a consequence, fungal:bacterial (F:B) biomass ratios were similar among treatments at each site. Total soil C was elevated at one California site following residue incorporation, yet was significantly lower compared to surface-applied residues at both loblolly pine sites, presumably due to the oxidative effects of tilling on soil organic matter. The findings demonstrated an inconsequential effect of residue incorporation on fungal and bacterial biomass and suggest a limited potential of such practices to enhance long-term soil C storage in these forests.