Late-Successional Biomass Development in Northern Hardwood-Conifer Forests of the Northeastern United States

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Abstract:

Managing the contribution of forest ecosystems to global carbon cycles requires accurate predictions of biomass dynamics in relation to stand development. Our study evaluated competing hypotheses regarding late-successional biomass dynamics in northern hardwood-conifer forests using a data set spanning the northeastern United States, including 48 mature and 46 old-growth stands. Continuous data on dominant tree ages were available for 29 of these and were used as an indicator of stand development. Aboveground live biomass was significantly (P < 0.001) different between mature (195 Mg/ha) and old-growth (266 Mg/ha) sites. Aboveground biomass was positively (P < 0.001) and logarithmically correlated with dominant tree age; this held for live trees (r 2 = 0.52), standing dead trees (r 2 = 0.36), total trees (r 2 = 0.63), and downed woody debris (r 2 = 0.24). In a Classification and Regression Tree analysis, stand age class was the strongest predictor of biomass, but ecoregion and percent conifer accounted for ∼25‐33% of intraregional variability. Biomass approached maximum values in stands with dominant tree ages of ∼350‐400 years. Our results support the hypothesis that aboveground biomass can accumulate very late into succession in northern hardwood-conifer forests, recognizing that early declines are also possible in secondary forests as reported previously. Empirical studies suggest a high degree of variability in biomass development pathways and these may differ from theoretical predictions. Primary forest systems, especially those prone to partial disturbances, may have different biomass dynamics compared with those of secondary forests. These differences have important implications for both the quantity and temporal dynamics of carbon storage in old-growth and recovering secondary forests.

Keywords: aboveground biomass; carbon cycles; northern hardwoods; old-growth; stand development

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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