, Volume 242, Issue 1, pp 1-14

Influence of nutrients, disturbances and site conditions on carbon stocks along a boreal forest transect in central Canada

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Abstract

The interacting influence of disturbances and nutrient dynamics on aboveground biomass, forest floor, and mineral soil C stocks was assessed as part of the Boreal Forest Transect Case Study in central Canada. This transect covers a range of forested biomes–-from transitional grasslands (aspen parkland) in the south, through boreal forests, and into the forested subarctic woodland in the north. The dominant forest vegetation species are aspen, jack pine and spruce. Disturbances influence biomass C stocks in boreal forests by determining its age-class structure, altering nutrient dynamics, and changing the total nutrient reserves of the stand. Nitrogen is generally the limiting nutrient in these systems, and N availability determines biomass C stocks by affecting the forest dynamics (growth rates and site carrying capacity) throughout the life cycle of a forest stand. At a given site, total and available soil N are determined both by biotic factors (such as vegetation type and associated detritus pools) and abiotic factors (such as N deposition, soil texture, and drainage). Increasing clay content, lower temperatures and reduced aeration are expected to lead to reduced N mineralization and, ultimately, lower N availability and reduced forest productivity. Forest floor and mineral soil C stocks vary with changing balances between complex sets of organic carbon inputs and outputs. The changes in forest floor and mineral soil C pools at a given site, however, are strongly related to the historical changes in biomass at that site. Changes in N availability alter the processes regulating both inputs and outputs of carbon to soil stocks. N availability in turn is shaped by past disturbance history, litter fall rate, site characteristics and climatic factors. Thus, understanding the life-cycle dynamics of C and N as determined by age-class structure (disturbances) is essential for quantifying past changes in forest level C stocks and for projecting their future change.