Localized basal area affects soil respiration temperature sensitivity in a coastal deciduous forest

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Soil respiration (Rs), the flow of CO2 from the soil surface to the atmosphere, is one of the largest carbon fluxes in the terrestrial biosphere. The spatial variability of Rs is both large and poorly understood, limiting our ability to robustly scale it in space. One factor in Rs spatial variability is the autotrophic contribution from plant roots, but it is uncertain how the presence of plants affects the magnitude and temperature sensitivity of RS. This study used one year of Rs measurements to examine the effect of localized basal area on Rs in the growing and dormant seasons, as well as during moisture-limited times, in a temperate, coastal, deciduous forest in eastern Maryland, USA. In a linear mixed-effects model, tree basal area within a 5 m radius (BA5) exerted a significant positive effect on the temperature sensitivity of soil respiration. Soil moisture was the dominant control on Rs during the dry portions of the year while soil moisture, temperature, and BA5 all exerted significant effects on Rs in wetter periods. Our results suggest that autotrophic respiration is more sensitive to temperature than heterotrophic respiration at these sites, although we did not measure these source fluxes directly, and that soil respiration is highly moisture-sensitive, even in a record-rainfall year. The Rs flux magnitudes (0.35-15.3 µmol m-2 s-1) and variability (coefficient of variability 10%-23% across plots) observed in this study were comparable to values observed in similar forests. Six Rs observations would be required in order to estimate the mean across all study sites to within 50%, and 516 would be required in order to estimate it to within 5%, with 90% confidence.  A better understanding of the spatial interactions between plants and microbes, as well as the strength and speed of above- and belowground coupling, is necessary to link these processes with large scale soil-to-atmosphere C fluxes.

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The objective of Terrestrial-Aquatic Interface (TAI) research in PREMIS is to understand the factors governing C and nutrient movement and transformation through the TAI, and their sensitivities to inundation and salinity within coastal watersheds.
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