Net changes in aboveground woody carbon stock in western juniper woodlands, 1946–1998

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Abstract

[1] Although regional increases in woody plant cover in semiarid ecosystems have been identified as a worldwide phenomenon affecting the global carbon budget, quantifying the impact of these vegetation shifts on C pools and fluxes is challenging. Challenges arise because woody encroachment is governed by ecological processes that occur at fine spatial resolutions (1–10 m) and, in many cases, at slow (decadal-scale) temporal rates over large areas. We therefore analyzed time series aerial photography, which exhibits both the necessary spatial precision and temporal extent, to quantify the expansion of western juniper into sagebrush steppe landscapes in southwestern Idaho. We established upper and lower bounds of aboveground woody carbon change across the landscape via two-dimensional spatial wavelet analysis, image texture analysis, and field data collection. Forty-eight 100-ha blocks across a 330,000-ha region were stratified by topography, soil characteristics, and land stewardship for analyses. Across the area we estimate aboveground woody carbon accumulation rates of 3.3 gCm−2yr−1 and 10.0 gCm−2yr−1 using the wavelet and texture method, respectively, during the time period 1946–1998. Carbon accumulation rates were significantly affected by soil properties and were highly dependent on the spatial and temporal scales of analysis. For example, at a 100-ha scale the aboveground carbon accumulation varied from −1.7 to 9.9 gCm−2yr−1, while at the 1-ha scale the range of variability increased to −11 to 22 gCm−2yr−1. These values are an order of magnitude lower than those previously suggested due to woody encroachment, highlighting the need for examining multiple spatial scales when accounting for changes in terrestrial carbon storage.

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