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Keywords:

  • carbon dioxide;
  • methane;
  • nitric oxide;
  • nitrous oxide;
  • root decomposition;
  • root productivity;
  • root respiration;
  • root turnover

Abstract

Fine root dynamics have the potential to contribute significantly to ecosystem-scale biogeochemical cycling, including the production and emission of greenhouse gases. This is particularly true in tropical forests which are often characterized as having large fine root biomass and rapid rates of root production and decomposition. We examined patterns in fine root dynamics on two soil types in a lowland moist Amazonian forest, and determined the effect of root decay on rates of C and N trace gas fluxes. Root production averaged 229 (±35) and 153 (±27) g m−2 yr−1 for years 1 and 2 of the study, respectively, and did not vary significantly with soil texture. Root decay was sensitive to soil texture with faster rates in the clay soil (k=−0.96 year−1) than in the sandy loam soil (k=−0.61 year−1), leading to greater standing stocks of dead roots in the sandy loam. Rates of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions were significantly greater in the clay soil (13±1 ng N cm−2 h−1) than in the sandy loam (1.4±0.2 ng N cm−2 h−1). Root mortality and decay following trenching doubled rates of N2O emissions in the clay and tripled them in sandy loam over a 1-year period. Trenching also increased nitric oxide fluxes, which were greater in the sandy loam than in the clay. We used trenching (clay only) and a mass balance approach to estimate the root contribution to soil respiration. In clay soil root respiration was 264–380 g C m−2 yr−1, accounting for 24% to 35% of the total soil CO2 efflux. Estimates were similar using both approaches. In sandy loam, root respiration rates were slightly higher and more variable (521±206 g C m2 yr−1) and contributed 35% of the total soil respiration. Our results show that soil heterotrophs strongly dominate soil respiration in this forest, regardless of soil texture. Our results also suggest that fine root mortality and decomposition associated with disturbance and land-use change can contribute significantly to increased rates of nitrogen trace gas emissions.