Understory plant removal counteracts tree thinning effect on soil respiration in a temperate forest

Bo Zhao, Ashley P. Ballantyne, Shengwang Meng, Guang Zhao, Zhoutao Zheng, Juntao Zhu, Jing Cao, Yangjian Zhang, Xiuhai Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Elucidating the response mechanism of soil respiration (Rs) to silvicultural practices is pivotal to evaluating the effects of management practices on soil carbon cycling in planted forest ecosystems. However, as common management practices, how thinning, understory plant removal, and their interactions affect Rs and its autotrophic and heterotrophic components (Ra and Rh) remains unclear. Therefore, we investigated Rs, Ra and Rh by the trenching method from 2011 to 2015 in a Pinus tabuliformis plantation in northern China, subjecting to four treatments (intact control plots [CK], thinning [T], understory removal [UR], and thinning with understory removal [TUR]). Mean annual Rs was significantly increased by thinning (by 15.3%), whereas decreased by UR (by 17.4%), compared with CK. These variations in Rs were mainly attributed to changes in Ra. The increments of Ra were caused by the enhanced growth of fine root biomass after thinning. However, UR led to lower Ra compared with CK (p <.05), indicating that understory growth is inadequate to compensate for the decreased respiring root biomass induced by understory removal. Rs was unchanged between TUR and the intact control plot due to the opposite effects of thinning and UR on the Ra. Changes in Rh exhibited no significant differences among the treatments, partly because of the stable microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and forest floor mass (litter and fine woody debris). No interaction effect between thinning and understory removal was detected on Rs, Ra, and Rh. The lowest temperature sensitivity (Q10) value of Ra was found in CK. This study highlights the necessity of incorporating understory plant effects on soil CO2 efflux in assessing forest management practices on soil carbon cycling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6102-6113
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • canopy tree thinning
  • root trenching
  • soil respiration
  • temperature sensitivity
  • understory plant removal


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