Leaf litter, nutrient cycling, and forest ecology in the vicinity of an abandoned limestone quarry.
Artman, Vanessa*,1, Buehler, C1, Byers, C1, Drake, S1, 1 DePauw University, Greencastle, IN
ABSTRACT- What affects the amount of leaf litter in a forest? What are the consequences of different amounts of leaf litter: higher or lower quality habitat for birds? higher or lower nutrient availability for trees? higher or lower forest health and sustainability? These are the questions we're addressing in three patches of forest near an abandoned limestone quarry in west-central Indiana. Leaf litter depth in these forests is very low (only 2 to 4 mm) compared to other forests in the region (e.g. 20 to 25 mm). The forest composition also differs from typical eastern deciduous forests with large proportions of elm, walnut, and cherry. Few ground-nesting and ground-foraging bird species are present in these forests. We are testing a series of hypotheses to assess the relationships between forest composition, leaf litter depth, soil characteristics, microinvertebrate communities, and songbird communities. Leaf litter depth and leaf litter decomposition rates differed among the three sites. One site (QS) had shallower leaf litter, less input of new litter during autumn, and higher rates of leaf litter decomposition than the other two sites (QH and ARB). These differences may be a function of the past land use history associated with the limestone quarry. Large piles of calcium-rich rubble may have been deposited at QS when the quarry was active, with forest regeneration then occurring on top of this rubble once the quarry operations ended over 30 years ago. The resulting soil at QS may have a higher pH, thus favoring growth and regeneration of some tree species over others and also favoring more rapid decomposition of leaf litter. The forest composition and rapid litter decomposition may limit the abundance of some forest bird species. Could the absence of Ovenbirds, for example, be related to these issues? We will present additional data from the sites and discuss ideas about maintaining forest health and sustainability in the context of land use management.
Key words: leaf litter, forest composition, songbirds, soil pH, decomposition
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