Reforestation through assisted natural regeneration usually accumulates more biomass carbon than through tree planting, but its effects on soil respiration (Rs) and its components, autotrophic respiration (Ra) and heterotrophic respiration (Rh), are poorly understood despite the importance in forest carbon cycling. In this study, we clear-cut part of a 35-year-old secondary Castanopsis carelesii (C. carelesii) forest and reforested the logged land with C. carelesii via two approaches—active tree planting and assisted natural regeneration—and measured Rs, Ra, and Rh as well as soil temperature and moisture in these forests. In the first two years following reforestation, Rs, Ra and Rh rates were mostly reduced in the two young forests compared to the secondary forest, likely due to reduced photosynthate production and thus carbon substrate input associated with the clear-cut. However, the Rh:Rs ratio was significantly greater in the young plantation than in the other two forests in the first two years, suggesting a greater loss of soil organic carbon from the young plantation. In the third year, the mean Rs, Rh, and Ra rates of the young forest established via assisted natural regeneration were similar to those of the secondary forest, but significantly greater than those of the young plantation. The rates of Rs, Rh, and Ra mostly increased exponentially with increasing soil temperature in all forests, but mostly lack significant relationships with soil moisture. These findings indicate that, compared with reforestation via tree plantation, assisted natural regeneration not only reduced the loss of soil organic carbon via soil respiration, but also had a more rapid recovery of soil respiration to the level of the secondary forest. Our study highlights that, in addition to temperature, carbon substrate availability is also important in regulating soil respiration following reforestation.
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