Removals of forest biomass in the northeastern US may intensify over the coming decades due to increased demand for renewable energy. For forests to regenerate successfully following intensified harvests, the nutrients removed from the ecosystem in the harvested biomass (including N, P, Ca, Mg, and K) must be replenished through a combination of plant-available nutrients in the soil rooting zone, atmospheric inputs, weathering of primary minerals, biological N fixation, and fertilizer additions. Few previous studies (especially in North America) have measured soil nutrient pools beyond exchangeable cations, but over the long rotations common in this region, other pools which turn over more slowly are important. We constructed nutrient budgets at the rotation time scale for three harvest intensities and compared these with detailed soil data of exchangeable, organic, and primary mineral stocks of in soils sampled in 15 northern hardwood stands developed on granitic till soils in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire, USA. This comparison can be used to estimate how many times each stand might be harvested without diminishing productivity or requiring fertilization. Under 1990s rates of N deposition, N inputs exceeded removals except in the most intensive management scenario considered. Net losses of Ca, K, Mg, and P per rotation were potentially quite severe, depending on the assumptions used.Biologically accelerated soil weathering may explain the lack of observed deficiencies in regenerating forests of the region. Sites differed widely in the long-term nutrient capital available to support additional removals before encountering limitations (e.g., a fourfold difference in available Ca, and a tenfold difference in weatherable Ca). Intensive short-rotation biomass removal could rapidly deplete soil nutrient capital, but traditional long rotations, even under intensive harvesting, are unlikely to induce nutrient depletion in the 21st century. Weatherable P may ultimately limit biomass production on granitic bedrock (in as few as 6 rotations). Understanding whether and how soil weathering rates respond to nutrient demand will be critical to determining long-term sustainability of repeated intensive harvesting over centuries.
Earth Systems Research Center
Forest Ecology and Management
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Vadeboncoeur, M.A., Hamburg, S.P., Yanai, R.D., Blum, J.D. Rates of sustainable forest harvest depend on rotation length and weathering of soil minerals. (2014) Forest Ecology and Management, 318, pp. 194-205. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2014.01.012
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.