Temperate forest ecosystems have recently been identified as an important net sink in the global carbon budget. The factors responsible for the strength of the sinks and their permanence, however, are less evident. In this paper, we quantify the present carbon sequestration in Thuringian managed coniferous forests. We quantify the effects of indirect human-induced environmental changes (increasing temperature, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration and nitrogen fertilization), during the last century using BIOME-BGC, as well as the legacy effect of the current age-class distribution (forest inventories and BIOME-BGC). We focused on coniferous forests because these forests represent a large area of central European forests and detailed forest inventories were available.
The model indicates that environmental changes induced an increase in biomass C accumulation for all age classes during the last 20 years (1982–2001). Young and old stands had the highest changes in the biomass C accumulation during this period. During the last century mature stands (older than 80 years) turned from being almost carbon neutral to carbon sinks. In high elevations nitrogen deposition explained most of the increase of net ecosystem production (NEP) of forests. CO2 fertilization was the main factor increasing NEP of forests in the middle and low elevations.
According to the model, at present, total biomass C accumulation in coniferous forests of Thuringia was estimated at 1.51 t C ha−1 yr−1 with an averaged annual NEP of 1.42 t C ha−1 yr−1 and total net biome production of 1.03 t C ha−1 yr−1 (accounting for harvest). The annual averaged biomass carbon balance (BCB: biomass accumulation rate-harvest) was 1.12 t C ha−1 yr−1 (not including soil respiration), and was close to BCB from forest inventories (1.15 t C ha−1 yr−1). Indirect human impact resulted in 33% increase in modeled biomass carbon accumulation in coniferous forests in Thuringia during the last century. From the forest inventory data we estimated the legacy effect of the age-class distribution to account for 17% of the inventory-based sink. Isolating the environmental change effects showed that these effects can be large in a long-term, managed conifer forest.
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