Leaf litter decomposition in vernal pools of a central Ontario mixedwood forest




Otis, Kirsten Verity

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University of Guelph


Vernal pools are small, seasonally filling wetlands found throughout forests of north eastern North America. Vernal pools have been proposed as potential 'hot spots' of carbon cycling. A key component of the carbon cycle within vernal pools is the decomposition of leaf litter. I tested the hypothesis that leaf litter decomposition is more rapid within vernal pools than the adjacent upland. Leaf litter mass losses from litterbags incubated in situ within vernal pools and adjacent upland habitat were measured periodically over one year and then again after two years. The experiment was carried out at 24 separate vernal pools, over two replicate years. This is a novel degree of replication in studies of decomposition in temporary wetlands. Factors influencing decomposition, such as duration of flooding, water depth, pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen were measured. Mass loss was greater within pools than adjacent upland after 6 months, equal after 12 months, and lower within pools than adjacent upland after 24 months. This evidence suggests that vernal pools of Central Ontario are 'hot spots' of decomposition up to 6 months, but not after 12 and 24 months. In the long term, vernal pools may reduce decomposition rates, compared to adjacent uplands.



mixedwood forest, vernal pool, decomposition, mass loss, negative exponential model, decay constant, litterbag, GIS, carbon, nitrogen, ash, seasonal wetland, ephemeral forest pool, cryptic wetland, seasonal forest pond