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Carbon allocation in boreal black spruce forests across regions varying in soil temperature and precipitation


Jason G. Vogel, tel. +1 352 392 1894, e-mail:


A common hypothesis for northern ecosystems is that low soil temperatures inhibit plant productivity. To address this hypothesis, we reviewed how separate components of ecosystem carbon (C) cycling varied along a soil temperature gradient for nine well-drained, relatively productive boreal black spruce (Picea mariana Mill. [B.S.P.]) forests in Alaska, USA, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada. Annual soil temperature [expressed as soil summed degree days (SDD)] was positively correlated with aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), while negatively correlated with total belowground carbon flux (TBCF). The partitioning of C to ANPP at the expense of root processes represented a nearly 1 : 1 tradeoff across the soil temperature gradient, which implied that the amount of C cycling through these black spruce ecosystems was relatively insensitive to variation in SDD. Moreover, the rate at which C accumulated in the ecosystem since the last stand replacing fire was unrelated to SDD, but SDD was positively correlated to the ratio of spruce-biomass : forest-floor-mass. Thus, plant partitioning of C and the distribution of ecosystem C were apparently affected by soil temperature, although across regions, precipitation co-varied with soil temperature. These two factors likely correlated with one another because of precipitation's influence on soil heat balance, suggesting that a soil temperature–precipitation interaction could be responsible for the shifts in C allocation. Nonetheless, our results highlight that for this boreal ecosystem, ANPP and TBCF can be negatively correlated. In tropical and temperate forests, TBCF and ANPP have been reported as positively correlated, and our results may reflect the unique interactions between soil temperature, forest floor accumulation, rooting depth, and nutrient availability that characterize the black spruce forest type.