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Aboveground forest carbon shows different responses to fire frequency in harvested and unharvested forests

Author(s): Luke Collins, Ross A. Bradstock, Fabiano de Aquino Ximenes, Bronwyn Horsey, Robert Sawyer, Trent D. Penman
Year Published: 2019

Sequestration of carbon in forest ecosystems has been identified as an effective strategy to help mitigate the effects of global climate change. Prescribed burning and timber harvesting are two common, co‐occurring, forest management practices that may alter forest carbon pools. Prescribed burning for forest management, such as wildfire risk reduction, may shorten inter‐fire intervals and potentially reduce carbon stocks. Timber harvesting may further increase the susceptibility of forest carbon to losses in response to frequent burning regimes by redistributing carbon stocks from the live pools into the dead pools, causing mechanical damage to retained trees and shifting the demography of tree communities. We used a 27‐yr experiment in a temperate eucalypt forest to examine the effect of prescribed burning frequency and timber harvesting on aboveground carbon (AGC). Total AGC was reduced by ~23% on harvested plots when fire frequency increased from zero to seven fires, but was not affected by fire frequency on unharvested plots. The reduction in total AGC associated with increasing fire frequency on harvested plots was driven by declines in large coarse woody debris (≥10 cm diameter) and large trees (≥20 cm diameter). Small tree (<20 cm DBH) AGC increased with fire frequency on harvested plots, but decreased on unharvested plots. Carbon in dead standing trees decreased with increasing fire frequency on unharvested plots, but was unaffected on harvested plots. Small coarse woody debris (<10 cm diameter) was largely unaffected by fire frequency and harvesting. Total AGC on harvested plots was between 67% and 82% of that on unharvested plots, depending on burning treatment. Our results suggest that AGC in historically harvested forests may be susceptible to declines in response to increases in prescribed burning frequency. Consideration of historic harvesting will be important in understanding the effect of prescribed burning programs on forest carbon budgets.

Citation: Collins, Luke; Bradstock, Ross A.; Ximenes, Fabiano de Aquino; Horsey, Bronwyn; Sawyer, Robert; Penman, Trent D. 2019. Aboveground forest carbon shows different responses to fire frequency in harvested and unharvested forests. Ecological Applications 29(1):e01815. |https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1815
Topic(s): Fire & Climate, Carbon Sequestration, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18801
FRAMES RCS number: 57044
Record updated: Jan 29, 2019