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Temperate forest fragments maintain aboveground carbon stocks out to the forest edge despite changes in community composition

A Correction to this article was published on 06 June 2021

This article has been updated


Edge effects are among the primary mechanisms by which forest fragmentation can influence the link between biodiversity and ecosystem processes, but relatively few studies have quantified these mechanisms in temperate regions. Carbon storage is an important ecosystem function altered by edge effects, with implications for climate change mitigation. Two opposing hypotheses suggest that aboveground carbon (AGC) stocks at the forest edge will (a) decrease due to increased tree mortality and compositional shifts towards smaller, lower wood density species (e.g., as seen in tropical systems) or, less often, (b) increase due to light/temperature-induced increases in diversity and productivity. We used field-based measurements, allometry, and mixed models to investigate the effects of proximity to the forest edge on AGC stocks, species richness, and community composition in 24 forest fragments in southern Quebec. We also asked whether fragment size or connectivity with surrounding forests altered these edge effects. AGC stocks remained constant across a 100 m edge-to-interior gradient in all fragment types, despite changes in tree community composition and stem density consistent with expectations of forest edge effects. We attribute this constancy primarily to compensatory effects of small trees at the forest edge; however, it is due in some cases to the retention of large trees at forest edges, likely a result of forest management. Our results suggest important differences between temperate and tropical fragments with respect to mechanisms linking biodiversity and AGC dynamics. Small temperate forest fragments may be valuable in conservation efforts based on maintaining biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services.

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This research was supported by an NSERC CGS-M scholarship to CZ, and an NSERC Strategic Projects grant to EMB and AG, an Ouranos PACC-26 grant to AG and EMB, and the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science. AG is supported by the Canada Research Chair Program. CZ thanks Katriina O’Kane and Claudia Atomei for field assistance, Eric Pedersen for advice on statistical analyses, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript. The experiments herein comply with the current laws of the country (Canada) in which the experiments were performed.

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Correspondence to Carly Ziter.

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Communicated by Ines Ibanez.

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Ziter, C., Bennett, E.M. & Gonzalez, A. Temperate forest fragments maintain aboveground carbon stocks out to the forest edge despite changes in community composition. Oecologia 176, 893–902 (2014).

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  • Carbon stocks
  • Aboveground carbon
  • Ecosystem services
  • Edge effects
  • Fragmentation
  • Temperate forests