An estimated half of the carbon fixed by trees is transported belowground, a portion of which is exuded into the soil where it fuels a complex belowground food web. The biological transformation of exudates into microbial metabolites and necromass is a major source of soil organic matter (SOM), including persistent mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM). Recent recognition of the fundamental importance of these inputs from living roots for sustaining life belowground and replenishing SOM demands a rethinking of how we harvest forests. By severing the lifeline of living roots, clearcut harvesting devastates much of the belowground biodiversity in forests, and prohibits a principal pathway through which SOM and C stocks are replenished. Retention harvesting retains the influence of living roots within retention patches and potentially throughout the harvested area, but only if inter-tree distances are 15 m or less. Retention trees sustain and support the re-establishment of belowground life and function following forest harvest and may mitigate post-harvest soil C losses. Sustaining the belowground ecosystem via inputs from living roots is an underappreciated benefit of continuous-cover and retention forestry.
Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 532, 15 March 2023, 120848,