Effects of hurricane-felled tree trunks on soil carbon, nitrogen, microbial biomass, and root length in a wet tropical forest
Decaying coarse woody debris can affect the underlying soil either by augmenting nutrients that can be exploited by tree roots, or by diminishing nutrient availability through stimulation of microbial nutrient immobilization. We analyzed C, N, microbial biomass C and root length in closely paired soil samples taken under versus 20–50 cm away from large trunks of two species felled by Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998) three times during wet and dry seasons over the two years following the study conducted by Georges. Soil microbial biomass, % C and % N were significantly higher under than away from logs felled by both hurricanes (i.e., 1989 and 1998), at all sampling times and at both depths (0–10 and 10–20 cm). Frass from wood boring beetles may contribute to early effects. Root length was greater away from logs during the dry season, and under logs in the wet season. Root length was correlated with microbial biomass C, soil N and soil moisture (R = 0.36, 0.18, and 0.27, respectively; all p values < 0.05). Microbial biomass C varied significantly among seasons but differences between positions (under vs. away) were only suggestive. Microbial C was correlated with soil N (R = 0.35). Surface soil on the upslope side of the logs had significantly more N and microbial biomass, likely from accumulation of leaf litter above the logs on steep slopes. We conclude that decaying wood can provide ephemeral resources that are exploited by tree roots during some seasons.