Deep roots pump reduced C deep into Earth’s critical zone (CZ) as they grow and function. This action generates acid-forming CO2 and organic acids (OA) and fosters microbes that also produce these weathering agents. This phenomenon results in a regolith-weathering reaction front that propagates down with vertical root extension and water infiltration. Across old-growth hardwood, younger pine, and annual crop plots at the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory, we tested the hypothesis that persistent absence of deep roots, a widespread anthropogenic phenomenon, reduces root- and microbially-mediated biogeochemical pools and fluxes important for weathering, even well below maximum root density. We also hypothesized that land use effects on deep soil biogeochemistry is evident even after decades of forest regeneration.
Root abundance to 2 m declined with depth, and was greater in old-growth and regenerating forests than in crop plots at most depths. Old-growth soils also contain more roots than younger pine soils: between ~30-45 and ~70-80 cm depth, old-growth root abundances were greater than in regenerating forests, and old-growth soils exhibited root distributions with less severe declines with depth and harbored more root-associated bacteria than younger forests. Changing root abundances influenced concentrations of weathering agents. At 3 m, in situ soil [CO2] reached ~6%, 4%, and 2% in old-growth, regenerating, and crop soils, respectively. Soil organic C (SOC) and extractable OC (EOC, an OA proxy) did not differ across land use, but at 4-5 m EOC/SOC was higher in old-growth compared to regenerating forests and crop soils (20.0±2.6 vs. 2.0±1.0%). We suggest that biogeochemistry deep beneath old-growth forests reflects greater root prevalence and propensity for generation of weathering agents, and that disturbance regimes inducing deep root mortality impose top-down signals relevant to weathering processes deep in Earth’s CZ even after decades of forest regeneration.
Billings, Sharon A, Daniel deB. Richter, Daniel Hirmas, Christoph Lehmeier, Samik Bagchi, Zachary Brecheisen, Pamela L Sullivan, Kyungjin Min, Emma Hauser, Rena Stair, Rebecca Flournoy (2017): Soil weathering agents are limited where deep tree roots are removed, even after decades of forest regeneration. American Geophysical Union 2017 Fall Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, 11-15 December 2017.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.