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Keywords:

  • biomass;
  • carbon cycle;
  • carbon sequestration;
  • forest development;
  • net ecosystem productivity;
  • net primary productivity;
  • Oregon;
  • Pinus ponderosa;
  • soil carbon

Abstract

Forest development following stand-replacing disturbance influences a variety of ecosystem processes including carbon exchange with the atmosphere. On a series of ponderosa pine (Pinius ponderosa var. Laws.) stands ranging from 9 to> 300 years in central Oregon, USA, we used biological measurements to estimate carbon storage in vegetation and soil pools, net primary productivity (NPP) and net ecosystem productivity (NEP) to examine variation with stand age. Measurements were made on plots representing four age classes with three replications: initiation (I, 9–23 years), young (Y, 56–89 years), mature (M, 95–106 years), and old (O, 190–316 years) stands typical of the forest type in the region. Net ecosystem productivity was lowest in the I stands (−124 g C m−2 yr−1), moderate in Y stands (118 g C m−2 yr−1), highest in M stands (170 g C m−2 yr−1), and low in the O stands (35 g C m−2 yr−1). Net primary productivity followed similar trends, but did not decline as much in the O stands. The ratio of fine root to foliage carbon was highest in the I stands, which is likely necessary for establishment in the semiarid environment, where forests are subject to drought during the growing season (300–800 mm precipitation per year). Carbon storage in live mass was the highest in the O stands (mean 17.6 kg C m−2). Total ecosystem carbon storage and the fraction of ecosystem carbon in aboveground wood mass increased rapidly until 150–200 years, and did not decline in older stands. Forest inventory data on 950 ponderosa pine plots in Oregon show that the greatest proportion of plots exist in stands ∼ 100 years old, indicating that a majority of stands are approaching maximum carbon storage and net carbon uptake. Our data suggests that NEP averages ∼ 70 g C m−2 year−1 for ponderosa pine forests in Oregon. About 85% of the total carbon storage in biomass on the survey plots exists in stands greater than 100 years, which has implications for managing forests for carbon sequestration. To investigate variation in carbon storage and fluxes with disturbance, simulation with process models requires a dynamic parameterization for biomass allocation that depends on stand age, and should include a representation of competition between multiple plant functional types for space, water, and nutrients.