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Keywords:

  • carbon cycling;
  • climate change;
  • fluxes;
  • forest succession;
  • global change;
  • pools;
  • synthesis

Abstract

Forest age, which is affected by stand-replacing ecosystem disturbances (such as forest fires, harvesting, or insects), plays a distinguishing role in determining the distribution of carbon (C) pools and fluxes in different forested ecosystems. In this synthesis, net primary productivity (NPP), net ecosystem productivity (NEP), and five pools of C (living biomass, coarse woody debris, organic soil horizons, soil, and total ecosystem) are summarized by age class for tropical, temperate, and boreal forest biomes. Estimates of variability in NPP, NEP, and C pools are provided for each biome-age class combination and the sources of variability are discussed. Aggregated biome-level estimates of NPP and NEP were higher in intermediate-aged forests (e.g., 30–120 years), while older forests (e.g., >120 years) were generally less productive. The mean NEP in the youngest forests (0–10 years) was negative (source to the atmosphere) in both boreal and temperate biomes (−0.1 and –1.9 Mg C ha−1 yr−1, respectively). Forest age is a highly significant source of variability in NEP at the biome scale; for example, mean temperate forest NEP was −1.9, 4.5, 2.4, 1.9 and 1.7 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 across five age classes (0–10, 11–30, 31–70, 71–120, 121–200 years, respectively). In general, median NPP and NEP are strongly correlated (R2=0.83) across all biomes and age classes, with the exception of the youngest temperate forests. Using the information gained from calculating the summary statistics for NPP and NEP, we calculated heterotrophic soil respiration (Rh) for each age class in each biome. The mean Rh was high in the youngest temperate age class (9.7 Mg C ha−1 yr−1) and declined with age, implying that forest ecosystem respiration peaks when forests are young, not old. With notable exceptions, carbon pool sizes increased with age in all biomes, including soil C. Age trends in C cycling and storage are very apparent in all three biomes and it is clear that a better understanding of how forest age and disturbance history interact will greatly improve our fundamental knowledge of the terrestrial C cycle.