Canadian Forest Service Publications

Stability of soil carbon stocks varies with forest composition in the Canadian boreal biome. 2013. Laganière, J.; Paré, D.; Bergeron, Y.; Chen, H.Y.H.; Brassard, B.W.; Cavard, X. Ecosystems 16:852-865.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34880

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s10021-013-9658-z

† This site may require a fee

Mark record


Changes in forest composition as a result of forest management, natural disturbances, and climate change may affect the accumulation of soil organic carbon (SOC). We examined the influence of common boreal tree species (trembling aspen, black spruce, and jack pine), either in pure stands or in conifer-broadleaf mixtures, on the amount, distribution, and quality of SOC in two regions of the Canadian boreal biome. Long-term laboratory incubations were used to assess SOC quality by quantifying proportions of fast carbon (C) (that is, proportion of total C released during the first 100 days of incubation) and active C (that is, modeled proportion of total C that can be potentially released). Total amounts of SOC did not differ between stand types, but the effects of stand type on SOC stocks and quality differed with soil depth. Among stand types, aspen stands had the greatest relative proportion of total SOC in deeper mineral layers and the lowest amount of active C in the organic layer. For these reasons, the SOC stock that developed under aspen was more stable than in the other stand types. Although black spruce stands allowed a greater accumulation of SOC in surface layers, these stocks, however, might become more vulnerable to extra losses if environmental conditions are to become more favorable to decomposition in the future. Our work highlights that boreal forest composition influences the stability of SOC stocks and how climate change could alter this large C pool.

Plain Language Summary

Stand composition in the boreal forest varies with soil conditions such as drainage and fertility, climate conditions and disturbance regimes (fires, insects, forest management). Boreal forest soils are also recognized as one of the largest carbon reservoirs on the planet.

In this study, researchers sought to determine how stand composition in the boreal forest affects soil carbon stability. They found that in stands with more hardwoods, soil carbon is more stable due to its chemical characteristics and because it is located deeper than in softwood stands. The accumulation of soil carbon in these forests is partially linked to cooler temperatures beneath the canopy, a condition that disappears when the stand is disturbed.

In conclusion, following a disturbance, soils in hardwood-dominated stands are more likely to conserve their carbon stores than soils in softwood-dominated stands.