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Severe soil frost reduces losses of carbon and nitrogen from the forest floor during simulated snowmelt: A laboratory experiment

Reinmann, Andrew B., Templer, Pamela H., Campbell, John L.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.44 no.1 pp. 65-74
Abies balsamea, dissolved organic carbon, forest soils, Picea rubens, carbon dioxide, nitrogen content, Fagus grandifolia, climate change, experimental forests, Acer saccharum subsp. saccharum, frost, snowmelt, nitrous oxide, nitrogen, forest litter, methane, snow, soil treatment, topsoil, forest types, New Hampshire
Considerable progress has been made in understanding the impacts of soil frost on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling, but the effects of soil frost on C and N fluxes during snowmelt remain poorly understood. We conducted a laboratory experiment to determine the effects of soil frost on C and N fluxes from forest floor soils during snowmelt. Soil cores were collected from a sugar maple (Acer saccharum)–American beech (Fagus grandifolia) and a red spruce (Picea rubens)–balsam fir (Abies balsamea) forest at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, U.S.A. Soils were exposed to one of three temperature treatments, including severe (−15 °C), mild (−0.5 °C), and no soil frost (+5 °C) conditions. After one week the soils were incubated at +5 °C and snow was placed on top of the soils to simulate spring snowmelt. NO₃ ⁻ losses were up to 5.5 mg N kg⁻¹ soil greater in the mild soil frost treatment than the severe soil frost treatment. Net losses of NH₄ ⁺ and DON in leachate were up to 19 and 18 mg N kg⁻¹ soil greater in the no soil frost and mild soil frost treatments, respectively, than the severe soil frost treatment. In contrast, soil frost did not have a significant impact on dissolved organic C or cumulative gaseous fluxes of C and N throughout the snowmelt period. However, the total cumulative flux of C (i.e. dissolved organic C + CO₂ + CH₄) and N (i.e. dissolved organic N + NH₄ + NO₃ + N₂O) in the severe soil frost treatment were between one quarter and one half that observed in the no soil frost treatment for both forest types. Together, the results of this study show that total fluxes of N in leachate, as well as total cumulative C and N fluxes (gases + leachate), were significantly reduced following severe soil frost. We conclude that the extent to which C and N cycling during snowmelt is altered in response to changes in winter climate depend on both the presence and severity of soil frost.