Soil CO 2 efflux from mountainous windthrow areas: dynamics over 12 years post-disturbance
Windthrow-driven changes in carbon (C) allocation and soil microclimate can affect soil carbon dioxide (CO 2) efflux ( Fsoil) from forest ecosystems. Although Fsoil is the dominant C flux following stand-replacing disturbance, the effects of catastrophic windthrow on Fsoil are still poorly understood. We measured Fsoil at a montane mixed-forest site and at a subalpine spruce forest site from 2009 until 2012. Each site consisted of an undisturbed forest stand and two adjacent partially cleared (stem-fraction-harvested) windthrow areas, which differed with regard to the time since disturbance. The combination of chronosequence and direct time-series approaches enabled us to investigate Fsoil dynamics over 12 years post-disturbance. At both sites Fsoil rates did not differ significantly from those of the undisturbed stands in the initial phase after disturbance (1–6 years). In the later phase after disturbance (9–12 years), Fsoil rates were significantly higher than in the corresponding undisturbed stand. Soil temperature increased significantly following windthrow (by 2.9–4.8 °C), especially in the initial phase post-disturbance when vegetation cover was sparse. A significant part (15–31%) of Fsoil from the windthrow areas was attributed to the increase in soil temperature. According to our estimates, ~500–700 g C m −2 year −1 are released via Fsoil from south-facing forest sites in the Austrian Calcareous Alps in the initial 6 years after windthrow. With a high browsing pressure suppressing tree regeneration, post-disturbance net loss of ecosystem C to the atmosphere is likely to be substantial unless forest management is proactive in regenerating such sites. An increase in the frequency of forest disturbance by windthrow could therefore decrease soil C stocks and feed back positively on rising atmospheric CO 2 concentrations.