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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  3. Soper, Fiona (Ed.)
    Nitrogen (N) is a critical element in many ecological and biogeochemical processes in forest ecosystems. Cycling of N is sensitive to changes in climate, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, and air pollution. Streamwater nitrate draining a forested ecosystem can indicate how an ecosystem is responding to these changes. We observed a pulse in streamwater nitrate concentration and export at a long-term forest research site in eastern North America that resulted in a 10-fold increase in nitrate export compared to observations over the prior decade. The pulse in streamwater nitrate occurred in a reference catchment in the 2013 water year, but was not associated with a distinct disturbance event. We analyzed a suite of environmental variables to explore possible causes. The correlation between each environmental variable and streamwater nitrate concentration was consistently higher when we accounted for the antecedent conditions of the variable prior to a given streamwater observation. In most cases, the optimal antecedent period exceeded two years. We assessed the most important variables for predicting streamwater nitrate concentration by training a machine learning model to predict streamwater nitrate concentration in the years preceding and during the streamwater nitrate pulse. The results of the correlation and machine learning analyses suggest that the pulsed increase in streamwater nitrate resulted from both (1) decreased plant uptake due to lower terrestrial gross primary production, possibly due to increased soil frost or reduced solar radiation or both; and (2) increased net N mineralization and nitrification due to warm temperatures from 2010 to 2013. Additionally, variables associated with hydrological transport of nitrate, such as maximum stream discharge, emerged as important, suggesting that hydrology played a role in the pulse. Overall, our analyses indicate that the streamwater nitrate pulse was caused by a combination of factors that occurred in the years prior to the pulse, not a single disturbance event. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  4. Temperate forests are threatened by urbanization and fragmentation, with over 20% (118,300 km2) of U.S. forest land projected to be subsumed by urban land development. We leveraged a unique, well-characterized urban-to-rural and forest edge-to-interior gradient to identify the combined impact of these two land use changes—urbanization and forest edge creation—on the soil microbial community in native remnant forests. We found evidence of mutualism breakdown between trees and their fungal root mutualists [ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi] with urbanization, where ECM fungi colonized fewer tree roots and had less connectivity in soil microbiome networks in urban forests compared to rural forests. However, urbanization did not reduce the relative abundance of ECM fungi in forest soils; instead, forest edges alone led to strong reductions in ECM fungal abundance. At forest edges, ECM fungi were replaced by plant and animal pathogens, as well as copiotrophic, xenobiotic-degrading, and nitrogen-cycling bacteria, including nitrifiers and denitrifiers. Urbanization and forest edges interacted to generate new “suites” of microbes, with urban interior forests harboring highly homogenized microbiomes, while edge forest microbiomes were more heterogeneous and less stable, showing increased vulnerability to low soil moisture. When scaled to the regional level, we found that forest soils are projected to harbor high abundances of fungal pathogens and denitrifying bacteria, even in rural areas, due to the widespread existence of forest edges. Our results highlight the potential for soil microbiome dysfunction—including increased greenhouse gas production—in temperate forest regions that are subsumed by urban expansion, both now and in the future.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 5, 2024
  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2024
  6. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  7. Abstract

    Resilience is the ability of ecosystems to maintain function while experiencing perturbation. Globally, forests are experiencing disturbances of unprecedented quantity, type, and magnitude that may diminish resilience. Early warning signals are statistical properties of data whose increase over time may provide insights into decreasing resilience, but there have been few applications to forests. We quantified four early warning signals (standard deviation, lag-1 autocorrelation, skewness, and kurtosis) across detrended time series of multiple ecosystem state variables at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA and analyzed how these signals have changed over time. Variables were collected over periods from 25 to 55 years from both experimentally manipulated and reference areas and were aggregated to annual timesteps for analysis. Long-term (>50 year) increases in early warning signals of stream calcium, a key biogeochemical variable at the site, illustrated declining resilience after decades of acid deposition, but only in watersheds that had previously been harvested. Trends in early warning signals of stream nitrate, a critical nutrient and water pollutant, likewise exhibited symptoms of declining resilience but in all watersheds. Temporal trends in early warning signals of some of groups of trees, insects, and birds also indicated changing resilience, but this pattern differed among, and even within, groups. Overall, ∼60% of early warning signals analyzed indicated decreasing resilience. Most of these signals occurred in skewness and kurtosis, suggesting ‘flickering’ behavior that aligns with emerging evidence of the forest transitioning into an oligotrophic condition. The other ∼40% of early warning signals indicated increasing or unchanging resilience. Interpretation of early warning signals in the context of system specific knowledge is therefore essential. They can be useful indicators for some key ecosystem variables; however, uncertainties in other variables highlight the need for further development of these tools in well-studied, long-term research sites.

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  8. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 7, 2024
  9. Projections for the northeastern United States indicate that mean air temperatures will rise and snowfall will become less frequent, causing more frequent soil freezing. To test fungal responses to these combined chronic and extreme soil temperature changes, we conducted a laboratory-based common garden experiment with soil fungi that had been subjected to different combinations of growing season soil warming, winter soil freeze/thaw cycles, and ambient conditions for 4 years in the field. We found that fungi originating from field plots experiencing a combination of growing season warming and winter freeze/thaw cycles had inherently lower activity of acid phosphatase, but higher cellulase activity, that could not be reversed in the lab. In addition, fungi quickly adjusted their physiology to freeze/thaw cycles in the laboratory, reducing growth rate, and potentially reducing their carbon use efficiency. Our findings suggest that less than 4 years of new soil temperature conditions in the field can lead to physiological shifts by some soil fungi, as well as irreversible loss or acquisition of extracellular enzyme activity traits by other fungi. These findings could explain field observations of shifting soil carbon and nutrient cycling under simulated climate change. 
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