An improved method for quantifying total fine root decomposition in plantation forests combining measurements of soil coring and minirhizotrons with a mass balance model
Accurate measurement of total fine root decomposition (the amount of dead fine roots decomposed per unit soil volume) is essential for constructing a soil carbon budget. However, the ingrowth/soil core-based models are dependent on the assumptions that fine roots in litterbags/intact cores have the same relative decomposition rate as those in intact soils and that fine root growth and death rates remain constant over time, while minirhizotrons cannot quantify the total fine root decomposition. To improve the accuracy of estimates for total fine root decomposition, we propose a new method (balanced hybrid) with two models that integrate measurements of soil coring and minirhizotrons into a mass balance model. Model input parameters were fine root biomass, necromass and turnover rate for Model 1, and fine root biomass, necromass and death rate for Model 2. We tested the balanced hybrid method in a loblolly pine plantation forest in coastal North Carolina, USA. The total decomposition rate of absorptive fine roots (ARs) (a combination of first- and second-order fine roots) using Models 1 and 2 was 107 ± 13 g m−2 year−1 and 129 ± 12 g m−2 year−1, respectively. Monthly total AR decomposition was highest from August to November, which corresponded with the highest monthly total ARs mortality. The ARs imaged by minirhizotrons well represent those growing in intact soils, evident by a significant and positive relationship between the standing biomass and the standing length. The total decomposition estimate in both models was sensitive to changes in fine root biomass, turnover rate and death rate but not to change in necromass. Compared with Model 2, Model 1 can avoid the technical difficulty of deciding dead time of individual fine roots but requires greater time and effort to accurately measure fine root biomass dynamics. The balanced hybrid method is an improved technique for measuring total fine root decomposition in plantation forests in which the estimates are based on empirical data from soil coring and minirhizotrons, moving beyond assumptions of traditional approaches.