Carbon Sources and Sinks in High-Elevation Spruce-Fir Forests in the Southeastern US

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Forest Ecology and Management







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carbon, sources, sinks, high-elevation, spruce-fir forests, southeastern United States

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This paper examines carbon (C) pools, fluxes, and net ecosystem balance for a high-elevation red spruce–Fraser fir forest [Picea rubens Sarg./Abies fraseri (Pursh.) Poir.] in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), based on measurements in fifty-four 20 m × 20 m permanent plots located between 1525 and 1970 m elevation. Forest floor and mineral soil C was determined from destructive sampling of the O horizon and incremental soil cores (to a depth of 50 cm) in each plot. Overstory C pools and net C sequestration in live trees was estimated from periodic inventories between 1993 and 2003. The CO2 release from standing and downed wood was based on biomass and C concentration estimates and published decomposition constants by decay class and species. Soil respiration was measured in situ between 2002 and 2004 in a subset of eight plots along an elevation gradient. Litterfall was collected from a total of 16 plots over a 2–5-year period.

The forest contained on average 403 Mg C ha−1, almost half of which stored belowground. Live trees, predominantly spruce, represented a large but highly variable C pool (mean: 126 Mg C ha−1, CV = 39%); while dead wood (61 Mg C ha−1), mostly fir, accounted for as much as 15% of total ecosystem C. The 10-year mean C sequestration in living trees was 2700 kg C ha−1 year−1, but increased from 2180 kg C ha−1 year−1 in 1993–1998 to 3110 kg C ha−1 year−1 in 1998–2003, especially at higher elevations. Dead wood also increased during that period, releasing on average 1600 kg C ha−1 year−1. Estimated net soil C efflux ranged between 1000 and 1450 kg C ha−1 year−1, depending on the calculation of total belowground C allocation. Based on current flux estimates, this old-growth system was close to C neutral.


Originally published by Elsevier. Publisher's PDF and HTML fulltext available through remote link.