Modeling in-situ pine root decomposition using data from a 60-year chronosequence
Because the root system of a mature pine tree typically accounts for 20-30% of the total tree biomass, decomposition of large lateral roots and taproots following forest harvest and re-establishment potentially impact nutrient supply and carbon sequestration in pine systems over several decades. If the relationship between stump diameter and decomposition of taproot and lateral root material, i.e., wood and bark, can be quantified, a better understanding of rates and patterns of sequestration and nutrient release can also be developed. This study estimated decomposition rates from in-situ root systems using a chronosequence approach. Nine stands of 55- to 60-year-old loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) that had been clear-cut 0, 5, 10, 20, 25, 35, 45, 55, and 60 years ago were identified on well-drained Piedmont soils. Taproot and lateral root systems were excavated, measured, and weighed. Although more than 50% of the total root mass decomposed during the first 10 years after harvest, field excavations recovered portions of large lateral roots (>5 cm diameter) and taproots that persisted for more than 35 and 60 years, respectively. Results indicate that decomposition of total root biomass, and its component parts, from mature, clear-cut loblolly pine stands, can be modeled with good precision as a function of groundline stump diameter and years since harvest.