Variations in Carbon Fluxes Lead to Resilience of Carbon Storage in New England Forests Affected by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid at a Centennial Time Scale
Lemos, Poliana Costa
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Since the 1980s, hemlock-dominated forests (Tsuga canadensis) of central New England have been increasingly infested by the invasive pest hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA, Adelges tsugae), predominantly resulting in its replacement by black birch-dominated forests (Betula lenta). To date there has been no long-term empirical analysis of HWA effects on forest carbon (C) cycling due to forest transition from hemlock to black birch. To address this question, I measured the C pools in five stand types at varying ages and stages of HWA infestation in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I also measured C fluxes in aboveground net primary production (ANPP) and soil respiration, and studied the drivers of these fluxes viz. litter production, rates of foliar decomposition, soil exoenzyme activity, temperature sensitivity of soil respiration and nitrogen (N) cycling. The mass of C stored in recovering forests was resilient to HWA infestation but the location of these stocks varied among stand types. There was a transition of C from live biomass in healthy, unaffected secondary hemlock forests to coarse woody debris (CWD) in recently girdled forests intended to simulate the effect of HWA on hemlock loss. Twenty years post-HWA infestation, however, ANPP was very high and there was a large increase in biomass-C pools in aggrading black stand types. C pools in mature, secondary black birch stand types ~135 years since pastureland abandonment were as large as those in primary hemlock stand types ~235 years of age, suggesting recovery of C storage within one century of HWA infestation. Soil respiration rates were positively correlated with inputs of hardwood leaf litter, fine root biomass and exoenzyme activity. Stand-type variations in ANPP were positively correlated with annual N requirements and N uptake from the soil. Nitrogen-use efficiency was highest in the girdled and post-HWA infestation stand types where ANPP was dominated by wood production which has a wide C:N ratio. Similar trends were found in soil respiration, but not to the same degree as that of ANPP. Collectively, my results indicate that southern New England forests C storage is highly resilient to the HWA-induced losses of hemlock, suggesting that these ecosystems will continue to be sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide.