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Keywords:

  • acclimation;
  • carbon;
  • climate change;
  • forest

Abstract

Assessments made over the past few decades have suggested that boreal forests may act as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, the fate of the newly accumulated carbon in the living forest biomass is not well understood, and the estimates of carbon sinks vary greatly from one assessment to another. Analysis of remote sensing data has indicated that the carbon sinks in the Russian forests are larger than what has been estimated from forest inventories. In this study, we show that over the past four decades, the allometric relationships among various plant parts have changed in the Russian forests. To this end, we employ two approaches: (1) analysis of the database, which contains 3196 sample plots; and (2) application of developed models to forest inventory data. Within the forests as a whole, when assessed at the continental scale, we detect a pronounced increase in the share of green parts (leaves and needles). However, there is a large geographical variation. The shift has been largest within the European Russia, where summer temperatures and precipitation have increased. In the Northern Taiga of Siberia, where the climate has become warmer but drier, the fraction of the green parts has decreased while the fractions of aboveground wood and roots have increased. These changes are consistent with experiments and mathematical models that predict a shift of carbon allocation to transpiring foliage with increasing temperature and lower allocation with increasing soil drought. In light of this, our results are a possible demonstration of the acclimation of trees to ongoing warming and changes in the surface water balance. Independent of the nature of the observed changes in allometric ratios, the increase in the share of green parts may have caused a misinterpretation of the satellite data and a systematic overestimation by remote sensing methods of the carbon sink for living biomass of the Russian forest.