Drier conditions at the edges of forest patches slow down the decay of dead wood and significantly alter the cycling of carbon and nutrients in woodland ecosystems, according to a new study.
Forests around the world have become increasingly fragmented, and in the UK three quarters of woodland area lie within 100 metres of the forest edge. It has long been known that so-called 'edge effects' influence temperature and moisture (the 'microclimate') in woodlands, but the influence on the carbon cycle is largely unknown.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Earthwatch in the UK combined experiments with mathematical modelling to fill this knowledge gap. Wood blocks were placed in Wytham Woods near Oxford at various distances from the forest edge, and left to decay over two years.
The measured decay rates were applied to a model of the surrounding landscape, to allow comparison between the current fragmented woodland cover and decay rates in continuous forest.
The research, published today in the journal Global Change Biology, shows that wood decay rates in the southern UK are reduced by around one quarter due to fragmentation. This effect is much larger than expected due to variation in temperatures and rainfall among years.
Dr Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter said: "We were surprised by the strength of the edge effect on wood decay, which we believe was driven by reduced moisture at the forest edge impairing the activity of saprotrophic fungi – those that live and feed on dead organic matter".
Wood decay, and the recycling of other biological matter like leaf litter, is driven by fungi and other microbes that are sensitive to temperature and moisture. The difference between the absorption of carbon dioxide via photosynthesis by trees, and the release of carbon by microbes, determines the overall carbon balance of the forest.
Dr Martha Crockatt of Earthwatch said: "Saprotrophic fungi control the cycling of carbon and nutrients from wood in forests, and their responses to changes in microclimate driven by fragmentation, and also climate change, will influence whether forests are a carbon source or sink".
The southern UK has a temperate climate with moderate temperatures and rainfall. Similar studies in different parts of the world, from the warm tropics to the cooler boreal regions, are needed to understand how edge effects on decomposition vary globally.
"Edge effects on moisture reduce wood decomposition rate in a temperate forest" by M. E. Crockatt & D. P. Bebber, is published in Global Change Biology.
Eleanor Gaskarth | Eurek Alert!
When a fish becomes fluid
17.12.2018 | Institute of Science and Technology Austria
Some brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy, new study suggests
11.12.2018 | Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
18.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy