Canadian Forest Service Publications

Carbon storage declines in old boreal forests irrespective of succession pathway. Gao, B.; Taylor, A.R.; Searle, E.B.; Kumar, P.; Ma, Z.; Hume, A.M.; Chen, H.Y.H. 2017. Ecosystems

Year: 2017

Issued by: Atlantic Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39174

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1007/s10021-017-0210-4

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The boreal forest plays a critical role in regulating global atmospheric carbon dioxide and is highly influenced by wildfire. However, the long-term recovery of forest carbon (C) storage following wildfire remains unclear, especially during late succession. Uncertainty surrounding C storage in old forests largely stems from both a lack of repeated measurements in forest stands older than the longevity of the pioneer cohort and a lack of consideration of multiple succession pathways. In this study, we constructed a replicated chronosequence, which covered a wide range of forest stand age classes (up to 210 years old) following fire in the boreal forest of central Canada. We selected stands of different overstorey types (that is, broadleaf, conifer, or mixedwood) and age classes to account for multiple succession pathways known to occur in our study area. Our results show a strong relationship between total ecosystem C storage and stand age following fire. Broadleaf stands had on average higher total ecosystem C; however, the inferred temporal dynamics of total ecosystem C were similar among all three overstorey types. Importantly, we found that total ecosystem C storage declined from canopy transition to late-succession stages, irrespective of succession pathway, contradicting views that old forests continually accumulate C as they age. Our findings emphasize that further study of stands older than the longevity of the pioneer cohort is critical to better understand the contribution of old forests to the global C cycle.

Plain Language Summary

This study investigates the influence of forest succession on forest productivity and total carbon stocks in boreal forest stands and tests whether carbon stocks increase or decrease as stands age and become old. Measuring a chronosequence of 43 different aged stands (spanning 209 years in age) located in the boreal forest of northern Ontario, this study found that multiple forest succession pathways had little influence over forest carbon stocks and that, irrespective of succession pathway, old stands (>200 years old) contained less carbon relative to younger, mature forest.