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Using Field Based Study of Nutrient Fluxes into Riparian Forests for Graduate Training


Acidic deposition in the northeastern United States has been causing the soil to lose important nutrients. When the soil pH is too low, nutrients like calcium and magnesium are washed away. One way in which nutrients are put back into the soil is when leaves and dead plant material break down and decompose. In some cases, if the soil is severely depleted of these important nutrients and is too acidic, forest managers will choose to apply lime to the soil. Lime contains calcium which can help lessen the effects of soil acidity.

My study will look at the time it takes leaf litter to break down in soils with varying levels of acidity and depleted nutrients. I will also look at the nutrients contained in the leaf material as the leaves break down. In addition, I will examine the effects of lime on the rate of litter decomposition. To do this, I have set up plots in the field containing bags of litter sewn into mesh bags. Some have been treated with lime and others have been left to decompose naturally. Periodically I will collect the bags and analyze them to determine the rate of decomposition and nutrient levels.

To my knowledge, there are no field studies that look at litter decomposition after the application of lime. It is also unclear whether leaves break down more slowly or quickly than they naturally would in acidic soils. With my study, I hope to contribute information to the scientific community and forest managers on the effects of liming on litter decomposition and rates of decomposition in soils with different acidity and nutrient loss.

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