Coarse woody debris and the carbon balance of a moderately disturbed forest

TitleCoarse woody debris and the carbon balance of a moderately disturbed forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsSchmid AV, Vogel CS, Liebman E, Curtis PS, Gough CM
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Pagination38 - 45
Date Published02/2016

Forested landscapes are shaped by disturbances varying in severity and source. Moderate disturbance from weather, pathogens, insects, and age-related senescence that kills only a subset of canopy trees may increase standing woody debris and alter the contribution of coarse woody debris (CWD) to total ecosystem respiration (RE). However, woody debris carbon (C) dynamics are rarely examined following moderate disturbances that increase standing dead wood pools. We used an experimental manipulation of moderate disturbance in an upper Great Lakes forest to: (1) examine multi-year changes in CWD mass through a moderate disturbance; (2) quantify in situ CWD respiration during different stages of decay for downed and standing woody debris and; (3) estimate the annual contribution of CWD respiration to the ecosystem C balance through comparison with RE and net ecosystem production (NEP). Six years following disturbance, we found that the standing dead wood mass of 24.5 Mg C ha1 was an order of magnitude greater than downed woody debris mass and a large source of ecosystem C flux. Instantaneous in situ respiration rates from standing and minimally decayed downed woody debris were not significantly different from one another. Separate estimates of ecosystem CWD respiration of 1.1–2.1 Mg C ha1 yr1 six years following disturbance were comparable in magnitude to NEP and 12.5–23.8% of RE, representing a substantial increase relative to pre-disturbance levels. Ecosystem respiration and NEP were stable following moderate disturbance even though ecosystem CWD respiration increased substantially, suggesting a reduction in the respiratory C contribution from other sources. We conclude that standing and downed CWD can be essential components of the ecosystem C balance following moderate severity disturbance.