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Redistribution of forest carbon caused by patch blowdowns in subalpine forests of the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA



[1] Patch blowdowns varying in size from 0.1 to 33 ha affected several areas in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA, during the winter of 2011–2012. These blowdowns resulted in substantial redistribution of forest carbon by snapping and uprooting trees, thereby increasing instream wood recruitment, recruitment of dead wood to the forest floor, and exposure of organic soil on uprooted tree plates. Estimates of carbon redistribution at five sites in Rocky Mountain National Park range as high as 308 Mg C/ha in high-severity patches to 106 Mg C/ha in low-severity patches, of which typically 10–30% is soil C and the remainder is downed wood. Masses of carbon redistributed from living to dead biomass at high-severity sites represent a substantial portion of average total biomass in old-growth subalpine forests in the region. Consequently, the potential for increasing frequency and/or severity of blowdowns under a warming climate represents a significant potential source of terrestrial carbon to the atmosphere. The majority of this carbon is in the form of downed wood that becomes a carbon source to the atmosphere, although interactions between downed wood and river processes can locally increase carbon storage in floodplain soil. Predictions of changes in precipitation and wind patterns, and associated changes in wildfire and insect infestation, suggest that blowdowns may become more common in future in the Southern Rockies, but the consequences for carbon dynamics depend on site-specific interactions between blowdowns and other processes such as floodplain storage of organic matter.

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