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Investigating biochemical processes to assess deadwood decay of beech and silver fir in Mediterranean mountain forests

Lombardi, F., Cherubini, P., Tognetti, R., Cocozza, C., Lasserre, B., Marchetti, M.
Annals of forest science 2013 v.70 no.1 pp. 101-111
Abies alba, Fagus sylvatica, Nothofagus menziesii, biochemical pathways, carbon, carbon sequestration, cellulose, conifers, dead wood, forest ecosystems, forest stands, lignin, microhabitats, montane forests, nitrogen, nitrogen content, soil organic carbon, stumps, Italy
CONTEXT: We investigated the relationships between decay classes, morphological characteristics and chemical compounds in Abies alba Mill. and Fagus sylvatica L. stumps in two forest stands in the central Apennines (Italy). The analysis of deadwood decomposition is important in estimating carbon sequestration potential and carbon residence time in forest ecosystems. In addition, deadwood decomposition affects nutrient cycling and microhabitat distribution. AIMS: The overall aim of this study was to investigate the decomposition processes in a mountainous Mediterranean ecosystem, and specifically to assess changes in chemical variables (lignin, cellulose, carbon and nitrogen content) in deadwood during the decomposition process, in relation to decay classes and to the species. METHODS: Cross-sections were collected from stumps. Samples were assigned to visually discernible decay classes, and cellulose, lignin and carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content in relation to total dry mass were analysed during the decay process. RESULTS: Results showed how C/N ratio decreased over decades due to an increase in nitrogen content. On the contrary, carbon concentration in stumps remained substantially stable. Lignin degraded slowly in comparison with cellulose and differences between species were observed. CONCLUSION: The hypothesis that the conifer species would decompose faster than deciduous species did not prove correct. The slower decay of lignin compared to cellulose suggested that lignin could be an important long-term source of soil organic carbon, and that this process could be greatly affected by forest species mixtures. Finally, decomposition processes in the investigated montane–Mediterranean forests were definitely faster than in the colder climates of northern Europe.