Highlights: We examine effects of size, species, and decay on woody debris nutrient concentrations; Results indicate wide variation in nutrient concentrations across the factors examined; Fine woody debris nutrient concentrations were greater than in coarse woody debris; Coarse woody debris nutrient concentrations generally increased as decay progressed; Results suggest high fine woody debris stocks can represent an important nutrient source.
Contemporary forest harvesting practices, specifically harvesting woody biomass as a source of bioenergy feedstock, may remove more woody debris from a site than conventional harvesting. Woody debris, particularly smaller diameter woody debris, plays a key role in maintaining ecosystem nutrient stores following disturbance. Understanding nutrient concentrations within woody debris is necessary for assessing the long-term nutrient balance consequences of altered woody debris retention, particularly in forests slated for use as bioenergy feedstocks. Nutrient concentrations in downed woody debris of various sizes, decay classes, and species were characterized within one such forest type, Populus tremuloides Michx.-dominated forests of northern Minnesota, USA. Nutrient concentrations differed significantly between size and decay classes and generally increased as decay progressed. Fine woody debris (≤ 7.5 cm diameter) had higher nutrient concentrations than coarse woody debris (> 7.5 cm diameter) for all nutrients examined except Na and Mn, and nutrient concentrations varied among species. Concentrations of N, Mn, Al, Fe, and Zn in coarse woody debris increased between one and three orders of magnitude, while K decreased by an order of magnitude with progressing decay. The variations in nutrient concentrations observed here underscore the complexity of woody debris nutrient stores in forested ecosystems and suggest that retaining fine woody debris at harvest may provide a potentially important source of nutrients following intensive removals of bioenergy feedstocks.