Estimating root biomass and distribution after fire in a Great Basin woodland using cores and pits
Quantifying root biomass is critical to an estimation and understanding of ecosystem net primary production, biomass partitioning, and belowground competition. We compared 2 methods for determining root biomass: a new soil-coring technique and traditional excavation of quantitative pits. We conducted the study in an existing Joint Fire Sciences demonstration area in the central Great Basin. This area is representative of a shrub (sagebrush) ecosystem exhibiting tree (pinyon and juniper) encroachment. The demonstration area had a prescribed burn implemented 4 years prior to our study, and we sampled both control and burned plots. The samples were stratified across 3 microsites (interspace, under shrub, and under tree) and 4 soil depths (0-8, 8-23, 23-38, and 38-52 cm) to determine the effects of plant life form and burning on root biomass. We found that estimates of total root biomass were similar between quantitative pits and our soil cores. However, cores tended to show a more even distribution of root biomass across all microsites and depths than did pits. Overall, results indicated that root biomass differs significantly among microsites and soil depths and that the amount of root biomass at a given depth differs among microsites. Burning reduced root biomass in our study by 23% and altered the spatial distribution of root mass.