Estimating “autotrophic” belowground respiration in spruce and beech forests: decreases following girdling

Research paper by Christian P. Andersen, Ivan Nikolov, Petia Nikolova, Rainer Matyssek, Karl-Heinz Häberle

Indexed on: 01 Oct '05Published on: 01 Oct '05Published in: European Journal of Forest Research


Seasonal fluxes of CO2 from soil and the contribution of autotrophic (root + mycorrhizal) to total soil respiration (SR) were estimated for a mixed stand of European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) in Central Europe. Mature trees of each species were girdled in August 2002 to eliminate carbohydrate allocation to roots. SR was measured at distances of 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5/2.0 m from the bole of each tree at 1–2 weeks intervals throughout the fall of 2002 and monthly during the spring and summer of 2003. The contribution of roots and mycorrhizae to total SR was estimated by the decrease in SR compared to ungirdled control trees to account for seasonal patterns evident in controls. SR decreased with soil temperature in the fall 2002 and increased again in 2003 as soil warmed. During most of the study period, SR was strongly related to soil temperature. During the dry summer of 2003, however, SR appeared to be uncoupled from temperature and was strongly related to soil water content (SWC). Mean rates of SR in beech and spruce control plots as well as root densities did not show a clear pattern with distance from the bole. SR decreased to levels below controls in beech within a few days after girdling, whereas spruce did not show a significant decrease until October 2002, 6 weeks after girdling. In both beech and spruce, decreased SR in response to girdling was greatest closest to the bole, possibly reflecting increased mycorrhizal activity close to the bole. Autotrophic respiration was estimated in beech to be as much as 50% of the total SR in the stand. The contribution of autotrophic respiration was less certain for spruce, although close to the bole, the autotrophic fraction may contribute to total SR as much as in beech. The large fraction of autotrophic respiration in total SR requires better understanding of tree level stresses that affect carbon allocation below ground.