Long-term changes in forest floor processes in southern Appalachian forests
Soil nutrient concentrations decreased in an aggrading southern Appalachian forest over a 20-year period. Construction of nutrient budgets showed significant nutrient sequestration aboveground including increased forest floor mass. We hypothesized that the changes in forest floor mass resulted from decreased litter decomposition rates because of decreased litter quality. In 1992 and 1993, we repeated a litter decomposition experiment conducted in 1969 and 1970 to test this hypothesis. In addition, we examined microarthropod populations and functional groups as litter decomposed. For four of the five species tested, first year decomposition rates were about the same in both experiments. Initial litter nutrient concentrations of P were lower in all tree species in the most recent sampling. N, Ca, and Mg concentrations also declined in some species. These declines often resulted in decreased nutrient release rates during decomposition. Microarthropod populations differed significantly among litter species, as well as between years (probably resulting from differences in growing-season rainfall). For some litter species we found significant relationships between microarthropod populations and nutrient concentration (primarily C and N); however, most r2- values were low. Data suggest that changes in forest floor mass probably resulted from decreased litter quality and that those changes may have an effect on microarthropod populations.