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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Apr 17;115(16):4021-4026. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1700291115.

Carbon pools in China's terrestrial ecosystems: New estimates based on an intensive field survey.

Author information

South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510650, China.
Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China.
Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.
College of Tourism, Henan Normal University, Xinxiang 453007, China.
State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China.
Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100094, China.
Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu 610041, China.
State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water Resources, Yangling 712100, China.
Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China.
Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China.
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mengla 666303, China.
College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, China.
Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China;
South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510650, China;


China's terrestrial ecosystems have functioned as important carbon sinks. However, previous estimates of carbon budgets have included large uncertainties owing to the limitations of sample size, multiple data sources, and inconsistent methodologies. In this study, we conducted an intensive field campaign involving 14,371 field plots to investigate all sectors of carbon stocks in China's forests, shrublands, grasslands, and croplands to better estimate the regional and national carbon pools and to explore the biogeographical patterns and potential drivers of these pools. The total carbon pool in these four ecosystems was 79.24 ± 2.42 Pg C, of which 82.9% was stored in soil (to a depth of 1 m), 16.5% in biomass, and 0.60% in litter. Forests, shrublands, grasslands, and croplands contained 30.83 ± 1.57 Pg C, 6.69 ± 0.32 Pg C, 25.40 ± 1.49 Pg C, and 16.32 ± 0.41 Pg C, respectively. When all terrestrial ecosystems are taken into account, the country's total carbon pool is 89.27 ± 1.05 Pg C. The carbon density of the forests, shrublands, and grasslands exhibited a strong correlation with climate: it decreased with increasing temperature but increased with increasing precipitation. Our analysis also suggests a significant sequestration potential of 1.9-3.4 Pg C in forest biomass in the next 10-20 years assuming no removals, mainly because of forest growth. Our results update the estimates of carbon pools in China's terrestrial ecosystems based on direct field measurements, and these estimates are essential to the validation and parameterization of carbon models in China and globally.


carbon stock; climatic influences; human influences; spatial variations; terrestrial ecosystems

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