Diverging patterns at the forest edge: Soil respiration dynamics of fragmented forests in urban and rural areas

As urbanization and forest fragmentation increase around the globe, it is critical to understand how rates of respiration and carbon losses from soil carbon pools are affected by these processes. This study characterizes soils in fragmented forests along an urban to rural gradient, evaluating the sensitivity of soil respiration to changes in soil temperature and moisture near the forest edge. While previous studies found elevated rates of soil respiration at temperate forest edges in rural areas compared to the forest interior, we find that soil respiration is suppressed at the forest edge in urban areas. At urban sites, respiration rates are 25% lower at the forest edge relative to the interior, likely due to high temperature and aridity conditions near urban edges. While rural soils continue to respire with increasing temperatures, urban soil respiration rates asymptote as temperatures climb and soils dry. Soil temperature- and moisture-sensitivity modeling shows that respiration rates in urban soils are less sensitive to rising temperatures than those in rural soils. Scaling these results to Massachusetts (MA), which encompasses 0.25 Mha of the urban forest, we find that failure to account for decreases in soil respiration rates near urban forest edges leads to an overestimate of growing-season soil carbon fluxes of >350,000 Mg C. This difference is almost 2.5 times that for rural soils in the analogous comparison (underestimate of <143,000 Mg C), even though rural forest area is more than four times greater than urban forest area in MA. While a changing climate may stimulate carbon losses from rural forest edge soils, urban forests may experience enhanced soil carbon sequestration near the forest edge. These findings highlight the need to capture the effects of forest fragmentation and land use context when making projections about soil behavior and carbon cycling in a warming and increasingly urbanized world. See: Diverging patterns at the forest edge: Soil respiration dynamics of fragmented forests in urban and rural areas

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