Long term variation of leaf abundance in a northern hardwood forest

TitleLong term variation of leaf abundance in a northern hardwood forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsFahey, TJ, Cleavitt, NL, Battles, JJ
JournalEcological Indicators
Date Published2022/04/01/
ISBN Number1470-160X
Keywordsdisturbance, Drought, Hubbard Brook, Ice storm, Leaf area index, LTER-HBR

Leaf abundance of trees plays a dominant role in energy, water and nutrient flux of forest ecosystems, in defining the habitat structure of entrained biota and in mediating interspecific competition among tree species. We quantified leaf abundance of three dominant tree species (Acer saccharum Marsh.; Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.; Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) for 27 years in mature northern hardwood forest at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA using annual counts of leaves of each species collected in 117 litter traps (0.1 m2, each). We hypothesized that variation in leaf abundance would reflect known disturbance events and canopy dieback episodes. No significant trend in leaf abundance of the three species over 27 years (1993–2019) was observed in seven reference stands despite known canopy dieback of sugar maple and American beech in these stands, indicating that 1) maple decline preceded our sampling interval and 2) expansion of beech understory compensated for canopy dieback caused by beech bark disease. Leaf abundance temporarily declined significantly in response to known disturbances (ice storm, 34 to 47%; late-spring frost, 13 to 16%). Increased leaf abundance, especially for sugar maple (30%), on a watershed where calcium addition restored acidified soils, was probably associated with increased soil pH, Ca availability and decreased Al. The temporal sequence of decline of paper birch at higher elevations following a severe drought in 2002 also was apparent. Leaf abundance based on leaf litterfall in deciduous forests provides a useful indicator of forest ecosystem function and forest health.



Short TitleEcological Indicators