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Shifts in belowground processes along a temperate forest edge



Rose Abramoff, Jeffrey Warren, Jessica Harris, Sarah Ottinger, Sarah Garvey, Joy Winbourne, Andrew Reinmann, David W. Allen, Lucy Hutyra, Margaret Torn, Melanie Mayes


Forests are increasingly fragmented and as a result most forests in the United States are within 1 km of an edge. Edges change environmental conditions of the forest - especially radiation, roughness, and temperature - that can have consequences for plant productivity and ecosystem functions. However, edge effects on aboveground characteristics of plants and the environment are better documented relative to the belowground environment and on plant root and soil. Here we examine the effect of landscape position along a forest-to-meadow transition on roots and soil at a mixed deciduous forest in Gaithersburg, MD. Measurements of environmental conditions, live and dead root traits, soil chemistry, and soil respiration along a 75 m+ transect from interior forest to meadow reveal gradients in the soil chemical, biological and hydrological environment, as measured by changes in biomass, soil properties, moisture content, and partitioning between heterotrophic and autotrophic respiration. We found that there was no difference in live root biomass between edge and interior, and a higher proportion of dead tree root biomass at the edge relative to both the meadow and the forest interior. The pH declined from meadow to forest, while other soil properties increased, including carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, dissolved organic carbon (C), and the phosphorus content of microbial biomass. Sugar degradation tended to be slightly higher at the forest edge, but other enzymes did not have significant differences in potential activity between the edge and other landscape positions. Microbial respiration was consistently higher at the meadow. Although soil C contents were not significantly different across landscape positions, there was a tendency towards higher soil C content at the edge relative to other landscape positions, suggesting that any increased C loss related to root decay and greater soil respiration relative to the forest interior may be offset by increased C gain from high plant productivity and subsequent inputs to soil.
Journal of Ecology


forest fragmentation, edge effect, belowground carbon, soil respiration, root traits, soil chemistry


Abramoff, R. , Warren, J. , Harris, J. , Ottinger, S. , Garvey, S. , Winbourne, J. , Reinmann, A. , Allen, D. , Hutyra, L. , Torn, M. and Mayes, M. (2024), Shifts in belowground processes along a temperate forest edge, Journal of Ecology, [online],, (Accessed May 27, 2024)


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Created April 29, 2024, Updated May 2, 2024