Net ecosystem carbon balance of an apple orchard
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Fruit tree ecosystems represent an important land use type in Southern Europe. Nevertheless, limited information and large uncertainty currently exist about their potential role as a sink of atmospheric CO2, which is measured through an index that accounts for all inputs and outputs of C, namely the net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB). In this paper, we studied the fluxes of C assimilation, the C release and the lateral C and their contribution to the NECB in an apple orchard at different time scales. Data of net ecosystem productivity (NEP) were recorded by eddy covariance and converted into ecosystem respiration and gross primary productivity (GPP). The net primary productivity (NPP) and the C partitioning among tree organs were also biometrically assessed. The study was carried out in the period 2009-2012 in a commercial apple orchard located in an intensive fruit production district of South Tyrol, Italy. We found a positive NEP from March to October and yearly NEP values of 403 g Cm-2. GPP (1346 g Cm-2 year(-1) on average) was highest between May and September, when leaves intercepted the highest amount of PPFD. Tree growth accounted for more than 90% of the total new biomass produced in the orchard, the remaining part being represented by the herbaceous vegetation covering the orchard floor. Trees allocated to fruits approximately half of the yearly NPP, while they increased only to a limited extent their standing biomass. A significant fraction of NPP was also allocated to organs (leaves, pruned woody organs, etc.,) that feed the detritus cycle. The NECB was on average positive (69 g C m(-2)) but showed high variation among years, and in the year when fruit yields was very high (74 t fruits/ha), the NECB was even negative. NECB was accounted to a greater extent by the yearly increase of tree woody organs and to a minor extent by the C transfer to the soil from the decomposing litter. The most relevant agronomical suggestion of this study is that tree vegetative growth resulting into either increasing standing biomass and/or increasing tree litter should not be reduced if we aim at maintaining the CO2 sink capacity of the apple orchard.