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Recovery of Ecosystem Carbon Stocks in Young Boreal Forests: A Comparison of Harvesting and Wildfire Disturbance

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Abstract

Corresponding with the increasing global resource demand, harvesting now affects millions of hectares of boreal forest each year, and yet our understanding of harvesting impacts on boreal carbon (C) dynamics relative to wildfire remains unclear. We provide a direct comparison of C stocks following clearcut harvesting and fire over a 27-year chronosequence in the boreal forest of central Canada. Whereas many past studies have lacked measurement of all major C pools, we attempt to provide complete C pool coverage, including live biomass, deadwood, forest floor, and mineral soil C pools. The relative contribution of each C pool to total ecosystem C varied considerably between disturbance types. Live biomass C was significantly higher following harvesting compared with fire because of residual live trees and advanced regeneration. Conversely, most live biomass was killed following fire, and thus post-fire stands contained higher stocks of deadwood C. Snag and stump C mass peaked immediately following fire, but dramatically decreased 8 years after fire as dead trees began to fall over, contributing to the downed woody debris C pool. Forest floor C mass was substantially lower shortly after fire than harvesting, but this pool converged 8 years after fire and harvesting. When total ecosystem C stocks were examined, we found no significant difference during early stand development between harvesting and fire. Maximum total ecosystem C occurred at age 27 years, 185.1 ± 18.2 and 163.6 ± 8.0 Mg C ha−1 for harvesting and fire, respectively. Our results indicate strong differences in individual C pools, but similar total ecosystem C after fire and clearcutting in boreal forests, and shall help improve modeling terrestrial C flux after stand-replacing disturbances.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Lindsey Jupp, Dominic Lafontaine-Senici, Bharat Shrestha, Xinrong Shi, Thai Tran, C. Y. Wei, Zhiyou Yuan, Jérôme Laganière, and Yu Zhang for field and lab assistance. We also thank Pierre Bernier, Mike Lavigne, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. This study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC DG283336-2009, STPGP 322297, and STPGP428641) and the Network Centre of Excellence of Sustainable Forest Management. This work was also supported by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Science Grant No. SF0170014s08 and by the Estonian Science Foundation Grant No. 8496.

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Correspondence to Meelis Seedre.

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Conceived of or designed study (HYH, MS, ART, BWB), performed research (MS, ART, BWB), analyzed data (MS, ART, BWB), and wrote paper (MS, ART, BWB, HYH, KJ).

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Seedre, M., Taylor, A.R., Brassard, B.W. et al. Recovery of Ecosystem Carbon Stocks in Young Boreal Forests: A Comparison of Harvesting and Wildfire Disturbance. Ecosystems 17, 851–863 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-014-9763-7

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