Annals of Forest Science

, 76:70 | Cite as

Tissue-specific carbon concentration, carbon stock, and distribution in Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook plantations at various developmental stages in subtropical China

  • Lili Zhou
  • Shubin Li
  • Bo Liu
  • Pengfei Wu
  • Kate V. Heal
  • Xiangqing MaEmail author
Research Paper


Key message

Carbon (C) concentrations in Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook plantations differed significantly among tissue types and were greater for aboveground than belowground tissues. Plantation C stock increased with a developmental stage from young to mature to overmature, but at all stages, the majority occurred as soil organic carbon (SOC) and was more influenced by belowground fine roots than by aboveground litterfall.


Failing to account for tissue-specific variation in the C concentration can result in inaccurate forest C stock estimates.


We aimed to quantify the relative magnitudes of C stock for Chinese fir plantations at different developmental stages. Specifically, we focused on assessing tissue-specific C concentrations and C dynamics return of above- and belowground litterfall.


Carbon traits (C concentration, C flux, C stock, and distribution at tree and ecosystem scales) were quantified in a chronosequence of Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook) monoculture plantation stands at young (10), mature (22), and overmature (34 years old) developmental stages.


Carbon concentrations differed significantly among tissue types, with mean values of 48.5 ± 0.1% and 42.5 ± 0.2% for above- and belowground biomass, respectively. The aboveground tissue C concentration, tree- and plantation-scale C stock, and SOC stock depended on developmental stage. Carbon return in litterfall, tree C stock, and SOC increased from the young to the overmature stage. SOC stock accounted for the majority of plantation C stock at all developmental stages (78.3, 59.6, and 55.7% in the young, mature, and overmature stages, respectively) and was more highly influenced by belowground fine roots than aboveground litterfall. Carbon stocks in Chinese fir plantations were 86, 129, and 153 t ha−2 at the young, mature, and overmature stages.


Prolonging Chinese fir rotation increases C sequestration potential and should be the focus of forest management strategies. The tissue-specific C concentrations provide detailed information for more accurate biomass C stock estimates for Chinese fir plantations and other subtropical coniferous forests. They indicate that current guidelines result in an overestimation of belowground biomass C stocks. Using the standard 0.47 biomass to C conversion factor, the belowground C stock would have been overestimated by 7.6–13.0% for the Chinese fir developmental stages investigated, while tree C stock would be underestimated by 0.08–3.24%. Therefore, developing species- and tissue-specific conversion factors are required for supporting C plantation and forest C accounting strategies.


Aboveground and belowground carbon Chinese fir Conversion factor Litterfall Monoculture plantation Soil organic carbon 



We thank Xinkou Experimental Forest Farm, Sanming, China, for the field assistance. We also thank Xinding Liu, Fengze Han, and Yayun Jia for the laboratory assistance and Sipan Wu and Baoying Chen for the data analysis. We appreciate Editage ( for the English language editing.


This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31800532), the National Natural Science Foundation of Fujian Province (No. 2018J05059), the National key research and development plan (No. 2016YFD0600301), Forestry Science and Technology Project of Fujian Province (No. 16, 2019) and the Open project of Fujian Provincial Colleges and University Engineering Research Center of Plantation Sustainable Management (No. PSM-2017002).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Lili Zhou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shubin Li
    • 3
    • 4
  • Bo Liu
    • 3
    • 4
  • Pengfei Wu
    • 3
    • 4
  • Kate V. Heal
    • 5
  • Xiangqing Ma
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of OceanographyMinjiang UniversityFuzhouChina
  2. 2.Fujian Provincial Colleges and University Engineering Research Center of Sustainable Plantation ManagementFujian Agriculture and Forestry UniversityFuzhouChina
  3. 3.Forestry CollegeFujian Agriculture and Forestry UniversityFuzhouChina
  4. 4.Chinese Fir Engineering Technology Research Center of the State Forestry and Grassland AdministrationFuzhouChina
  5. 5.School of GeoSciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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