Stand age-related effects on soil respiration in a first rotation Sitka spruce chronosequence in central Ireland


Gustavo Saiz, tel. +353 1716 7716, fax: +353 1716 1102, e-mail:


The effect of stand age on soil respiration and its components was studied in a first rotation Sitka spruce chronosequence composed of 10-, 15-, 31-, and 47-year-old stands established on wet mineral gley in central Ireland. For each stand age, three forest stands with similar characteristics of soil type and site preparation were used. There were no significant differences in total soil respiration among sites of the same age, except for the case of a 15-year-old stand that had lower soil respiration rates due to its higher productivity. Soil respiration initially decreased with stand age, but levelled out in the older stands. The youngest stands had significantly higher respiration rates than more mature sites. Annual soil respiration rates were modelled by means of temperature-derived functions. The average Q10 value obtained treating all the stands together was 3.8. Annual soil respiration rates were 991, 686, 556, and 564 g C m−2 for the 10-, 15-, 31-, and 47-year-old stands, respectively. We used the trenching approach to separate soil respiration components. Heterotrophic respiration paralleled soil organic carbon dynamics over the chronosequence, decreasing with stand age to slightly increase in the oldest stand as a result of accumulated aboveground litter and root inputs. Root respiration showed a decreasing trend with stand age, which was explained by a decrease in fine root biomass over the chronosequence, but not by nitrogen concentration of fine roots. The decrease in the relative contribution of autotrophic respiration to total soil CO2 efflux from 59.3% in the youngest stand to 49.7% in the oldest stand was explained by the higher activity of the root system in younger stands. Our results show that stand age should be considered if simple temperature-based models to predict annual soil respiration in afforestation sites are to be used.