Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 77–94 | Cite as

Changing Temporal Patterns of Forest Carbon Stores and Net Ecosystem Carbon Balance: the Stand to Landscape Transformation

  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
  • Mark E. Harmon
  • James B. Domingo
Research Article


Short- and long-term patterns of net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB) for small, relatively uniform forest stands have been examined in detail, but the same is not true for landscapes, especially those with heterogeneous disturbance histories. In this paper, we explore the effect of two contrasting types of disturbances (i.e., fire and tree harvest) on landscape level NECB by using an ecosystem process model that explicitly accounts for changes in carbon (C) stores as a function of disturbance regimes. The latter were defined by the average disturbance interval, the regularity of the disturbance interval (i.e., random, based on a Poisson frequency distribution, or regular), the amount of C removed by the disturbance (i.e., severity), and the relative abundance of stands in the landscape with unique disturbance histories. We used the model to create over 300 hypothetical landscapes, each with a different disturbance regime, by simulating up to 200 unique stand histories and averaging their total C stores. Mean NECB and its year-to-year variability was computed by calculating the difference in mean total C stores from one year to the next. Results indicated that landscape C stores were higher for random than for regular disturbance intervals, and increased as the mean disturbance interval increased and as the disturbance severity decreased. For example, C storage was reduced by 58% when the fire interval was shortened from 250 years to 100 years. Average landscape NECB was not significantly different than zero for any of the simulated landscapes. Year-to-year variability in landscape NECB, however, was related to the landscape disturbance regime; increasing with disturbance severity and frequency, and higher for random versus regular disturbance intervals. We conclude that landscape C stores of forest systems can be predicted using the concept of disturbance regimes, a result that may be a useful for adjusting estimates of C storage to broad scales that are solely based on physiological processes.


Landscape Carbon Disturbance Fire Harvest NECB NPP Model 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
    • 1
  • Mark E. Harmon
    • 2
  • James B. Domingo
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest ScienceOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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