Total C and N pools and fluxes vary with time, soil temperature, and moisture along an elevation, precipitation, and vegetation gradient in southern Appalachian forests
The interactions of terrestrial C pools and fluxes with spatial and temporal variation in climate are not well understood. We conducted this study in the southern Appalachian Mountains where complex topography provides variability in temperature, precipitation, and forest communities. In 1990, we established five large plots across an elevation gradient allowing us to study the regulation of C and N pools and cycling by temperature and water, in reference watersheds in Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a USDA Forest Service Experimental Forest, in western NC, USA. Communities included mixed-oak pine, mixed-oak, cove hardwood, and northern hardwood. We examined 20-year changes in overstory productivity and biomass, leaf litterfall C and N fluxes, and total C and N pools in organic and surface mineral soil horizons, and coarse wood, and relationships with growing season soil temperature and precipitation. Productivity increased over time and with precipitation. Litterfall C and N flux increased over time and with increasing temperature and precipitation, respectively. Organic horizon C and N did not change over time and were not correlated to litterfall inputs. Mineral soil C and N did not change over time, and the negative effect of temperature on soil pools was evident across the gradient. Our data show that increasing temperature and variability in precipitation will result in altered aboveground productivity. Variation in surface soil C and N is related to topographic variation in temperature which is confounded with vegetation community. Data suggest that climatic changes will result in altered aboveground and soil C and N sequestration and fluxes.