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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lincoln, Nebraska » Agroecosystem Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #341473

Research Project: Management and Soil Resource Evaluation to Enhance Agricultural System Resilience and Sustainability

Location: Agroecosystem Management Research

Title: Biogeochemistry of vertebrate decomposition in a forest ecosystem

item KEENAN, SARAH - University Of Tennessee
item SCHAEFFER, SEAN - University Of Tennessee
item Jin, Virginia
item DEBRUYN, JENNIFER - University Of Tennessee

Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/28/2017
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Decomposing plants and animals provide critical nutrients for ecosystems, including forests. During vertebrate decay, the rapid release of limiting nutrients, including N, P, C, and S fundamentally transforms the soil environment by stimulating endogenous organisms. The goal of this study was to evaluate the release and cycling of N and C compounds in soil beneath decomposing beavers in a forest, results that will be used to quantify the rates and fluxes of decay-derived compounds. Soil beneath each beaver as well as control soils were collected during key phases of decay: initial placement, early, active, and advanced decay, skeletal exposure, and four months post decay. Key results: - Soil pH, electrical conductivity, and ammonium significantly increased during decay; - CO2, N2O, and CH4 release significantly increased during decay; - Soil C:N decreased significantly during active decay from ~17 to 12, and persisted around 12 after 4 months; - d15N of bulk soil significantly increased with values ranging from ~8 to 10‰ after 4 months, but no significant change to soil d13C. These results demonstrate the significant and long-lasting contributions of vertebrate decomposition to ecosystem functioning. In particular, decay results in a net release of CO2, N2O, and CH4, reflecting rapid nutrient cycling by gut- and soil-derived microorganisms. d15N enrichment after 4 months suggests that carrion decay significantly alters surface soil isotopic composition, and that carcass derived N persists in these ecosystems.