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Abiotic Parameters and Pedogenesis as Controlling Factors for Soil C and N Cycling Along an Elevational Gradient in a Subalpine Larch Forest (NW Italy)

1
Università degli Studi di Torino – DISAFA, Largo Paolo Braccini 2, 10095 Grugliasco (TO), Italy
2
Università degli Studi di Torino, NATRISK, Research Centre on Natural Risks in Mountain and Hilly Environments, Largo Paolo Braccini 2, 10095 Grugliasco (TO), Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2019, 10(8), 614; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10080614
Received: 6 June 2019 / Revised: 16 July 2019 / Accepted: 20 July 2019 / Published: 24 July 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Forest Ecology and Management)
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Abstract

Mountain regions are vulnerable to climate change but information about the climate sensitivity of seasonally snow-covered, subalpine ecosystems is still lacking. We investigated the impact of climatic conditions and pedogenesis on the C and N cycling along an elevation gradient under a Larch forest in the northwest (NW) Italian Alps. The environmental gradient that occurs over short distances makes elevation a good proxy for understanding the response of forest soils and nutrient cycling to different climatic conditions. Subalpine forests are located in a sensitive elevation range—the prospected changes in winter precipitation (i.e., shift of snowfalls to higher altitude, reduction of snow cover duration, etc.) could determine strong effects on soil nitrogen and carbon cycling. The work was performed in the western Italian Alps (Long-Term Ecological Research- LTER site Mont Mars, Fontainemore, Aosta Valley Region). Three sites, characterized by similar bedrock lithology and predominance of Larix decidua Mill., were selected along an elevation gradient (1550–1900 m above sea level-a.s.l.). To investigate the effects on soil properties and soil solution C and N forms of changing abiotic factors (e.g., snow cover duration, number of soil freeze/thaw cycles, intensity and duration of soil freezing, etc.) along the elevation gradient, soil profiles were opened in each site and topsoils and soil solutions were periodically collected from 2015 to 2016. The results indicated that the coldest and highest soil (well-developed Podzol) showed the highest content of extractable C and N forms (N-NH4+, DON, DOC, Cmicr) compared to lower-elevation Cambisols. The soil solution C and N forms (except N-NO3) did not show significant differences among the sites. Independently from elevation, the duration of soil freezing, soil volumetric water content, and snow cover duration (in order of importance) were the main abiotic factors driving soil C and N forms, revealing how little changes in these parameters could considerably influence C and N cycling under this subalpine forest stand. View Full-Text
Keywords: Alps; LTER; topsoil; soil solution; nutrients; elevation gradient; subalpine forest Alps; LTER; topsoil; soil solution; nutrients; elevation gradient; subalpine forest
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Pintaldi, E.; Viglietti, D.; D’Amico, M.E.; Magnani, A.; Freppaz, M. Abiotic Parameters and Pedogenesis as Controlling Factors for Soil C and N Cycling Along an Elevational Gradient in a Subalpine Larch Forest (NW Italy). Forests 2019, 10, 614.

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