In situ decomposition of northern hardwood tree boles: Decay rates and nutrient dynamics in wood and bark

Chris E. Johnson, Thomas G. Siccama, Ellen G. Denny, Mary Margaret Koppers, Daniel J. Vogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The decomposition of coarse woody debris contributes to forest nutrient sustainability and carbon (C) balances, yet few field studies have been undertaken to investigate these relationships in northern hardwood forests. We used a paired-sample approach to study the decomposition of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.), American beech (Fagus grandifolia Erhr.), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) boles at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. Mass loss over 16 years followed a first-order exponential decay pattern with half-lives ranging from 4.9 to 9.4 years in bark and from 7.3 to 10.9 years in wood. Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations increased significantly during decomposition, resulting in sharp decreases in C:N and C:P ratios. We did not, however, observe significant net increases in the amount of N or P stored in decomposing boles, as reported in some other studies. Calcium (Ca) concentration decreased by up to 50% in bark but more than doubled in wood of all species. The retention of Ca in decomposing wood helps maintain Ca pools in this base-poor ecosystem. Together, the exponential model for mass loss and a combined power-exponential model for changes in nutrient concentrations were able to simulate nutrient dynamics in decomposing boles after clear-cutting in an adjacent watershed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1515-1524
Number of pages10
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 12 2014


  • Calcium
  • Carbon
  • Coarse woody debris
  • Decomposition
  • Nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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