Silvicultural canopy gaps are emerging as an alternative management tool to accelerate development of complex forest structure in young, even-aged forests of the Pacific Northwest. The effect of gap creation on available nitrogen (N) is of concern to managers because N is often a limiting nutrient in Pacific Northwest forests. We investigated patterns of N availability in the forest floor and upper mineral soil (0-10 cm) across 6-8-year-old silvicultural canopy gaps in three 50-70-year-old Douglas-fir forests spanning a wide range of soil N capital in the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains of western Oregon. We used extractable ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-) pools, net N mineralization and nitrification rates, and NH4+ and NO3- ion exchange resin (IER) concentrations to quantify N availability along north-south transects run through the centers of 0.4 and 0.1 ha gaps. In addition, we measured several factors known to influence N availability, including litterfall, moisture, temperature, and decomposition rates. In general, gap-forest differences in N availability were more pronounced in the mineral soil than in the forest floor. Mineral soil extractable NH4+ and NO3- pools, net N mineralization and nitrification rates, and NH4+ and NO3- IER concentrations were all significantly elevated in gaps relative to adjacent forest, and in several cases exhibited significantly greater spatial variability in gaps than forest. Nitrogen availability along the edges of gaps more often resembled levels in the adjacent forest than in gap centers. For the majority of response variables, there were no significant differences between northern and southern transect positions, nor between 0.4 and 0.1 ha gaps. Forest floor and mineral soil gravimetric percent moisture and temperature showed few differences along transects, while litterfall carbon (C) inputs and litterfall C:N ratios in gaps were significantly lower than in the adjacent forest. Reciprocal transfer incubations of mineral soil samples between gap and forest positions revealed that soil originating from gaps had greater net nitrification rates than forest samples, regardless of incubation environment. Overall, our results suggest that increased N availability in 6-8-year-old silvicultural gaps in young western Oregon forests may be due more to the quality and quantity of litterfall inputs resulting from early-seral species colonizing gaps than by changes in temperature and moisture conditions caused by gap creation.
Additional publication details
Nitrogen dynamics across silvicultural canopy gaps in young forests of western Oregon