Ecological Significance of Phyllosphere Leaf Traits on Throughfall Hydrology, Biogeochemistry and Leaf Litter among Quercus Species in the Southeastern United States

Author(s): Limpert, K.; Siegert, C.; Karunarathna, A.

Quercus (oak) is a dominant species in many forest ecosystems across the United States that contribute vital ecosystem services through water and nutrient cycling. The recent decline of Quercus, largely due to fire suppression and forest mesophication, has the potential to alter forest hydrological and biogeochemical cycling. Given the prevalence, persistence, and diversity of Quercus leaves in forest ecosystems, it is likely that this species strongly mediate nutrient cycling when present. The objective of this study was to (1) quantify canopy-derived nutrients contributed to forest ecosystems and (2) determine interspecific temporal distribution of Quercus leaf fall in an oak-hickory forest in Mississippi. Beginning in Fall 2014, throughfall quantity and chemistry were measured during individual storm events under each of the four focal Quercus species and two non-Quercus (Carya) species and canopy litterfall was collected weekly to quantify changes in canopy leaf area index (LAI) and timing of species-specific leaf fall rates, and determine Throughfall depths decreased as leaves were lost but were greatest in Quercus species compared to Carya and were highest in Q. shumardii, and Q. stellata. The average total kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) content of throughfall was highest in Q. shumardii (1.44 mgL-1) and Q. stellata (1.65 mg L-1) compared to other Quercus and non-Quercus species. Q. stellata had the greatest total organic carbon (TOC) for the majority of rain events with the largest amount reaching 119.43 mg/L-1. Quercus species contributed larger amounts of essential anions (Cl-1, NO3-, SO4-2). During the winter of 2014-2015, Q. shumardii had the highest leaf retention although non-oak species had a higher leaf retention in general. Leaf fall varied during the winter of 2015-2016 with Q. alba species having longer leaf retention compared to other Quercus and Carya species. Quercus shumardii had the lowest average C:N amounts (43.99 mg L-1) in leaf litter content compared to the other Quercus species. Non-oak species had a considerably lower average C:N ratio (Carya spp. 32.58 mg L-1).

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