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Ecology. 2015 Feb;96(2):311-7.

Carbon storage in old-growth forests of the Mid-Atlantic: toward better understanding the eastern forest carbon sink.


Few old-growth stands remain in the matrix of secondary forests that dominates the eastern North American landscape. These remnant stands offer insight on the potential carbon (C) storage capacity of now-recovering secondary forests. We surveyed the remaining old-growth forests on sites characteristic of the general Mid-Atlantic United States and estimated the size of multiple components of forest C storage. Within and between old-growth stands, variability in C density is high and related to overstory tree species composition. The sites contain 219 ± 46 Mg C/ha (mean ± SD), including live and dead aboveground biomass, leaf litter, and the soil O horizon, with over 20% stored in downed wood and snags. Stands dominated by tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) store the most live biomass, while the mixed oak (Quercus spp.) stands overall store more dead wood. Total C density is 30% higher (154 Mg C/ha), and dead wood C density is 1800% higher (46 Mg C/ha) in the old-growth forests than in the surrounding younger forests (120 and 5 Mg C/ha, respectively). The high density of dead wood in old growth relative to secondary forests reflects a stark difference in historical land use and, possibly, the legacy of the local disturbance (e.g., disease) history. Our results demonstrate the potential for dead wood to maintain the sink capacity of secondary forests for many decades to come.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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