Cindy E. Prescott, Kristen Corrao, Anya Reid, Jenna M. Zukswert, Shalom D. Addo-Danso
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Record updated: June 21, 2018
NRFSN number: 16468

Estimates of decomposition rates of coarse woody debris (CWD) and fluxes of nutrients therein are essential components of carbon (C) and nutrient budget models. In a 30-year field experiment, we periodically measured mass remaining and nutrient concentrations in log segments of pine, spruce, and fir in natural, mature coniferous forests in Alberta, Canada. The predicted turnover times (t95; years) were 43–44 years for pine, 42–60 years for spruce, and 38–46 years for fir. Extrapolating from best-fit models, we predict that decomposition of these logs would be complete within 50–60 years. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) declined for most of the decomposition period, and ratios of the three species converged at <200 at 90% mass loss. Net release of N occurred only after logs had lost 90% of their original C and C:N had declined to <200. The ratio of carbon to phosphorus (C:P) declined and converged at 500–1000 at 90% mass loss. There was no evidence of net P release from logs even at 90% mass loss. It may be possible to estimate the amounts of N and P that will be incorporated into decaying logs based on the extent to which their initial C:N differs from 200 and their initial C:P differs from 500.


Prescott CE, Corrao K., Reid AM, Zukswert JM, Addo-Danso SD. 2017. Changes in mass, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in logs decomposing for 30 years in three Rocky Mountain coniferous forests. Can. J. For. Res. 47, p. 1418–1423.

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