Hurricane impacts on dynamics, structure and carbon sequestration potential of forest ecosystems in Southern New England, USA

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Uriarte, María ; Papaik, Michael (2007)

The observed increase in hurricane intensity in the North Atlantic calls for an evaluation of the effects that these storms have on temperate forest ecosystems where much of the terrestrial carbon is sequestered. We use a data-based forest simulator to analyse the effects of both historical and potentially future hurricane disturbance regimes on the structure, dynamics and carbon sequestration potential of Southern New England forests. Baseline estimates of carbon sequestration in aboveground biomass from our simulations are in line with forest inventory data and range from 0.93 to 1.68 tons C ha−1 yr−1 with the greatest rates in areas subject to the most severe wind disturbance. To the degree that carbon in downed timber is incorporated into the soil, an increase in severe storms is likely to enhance carbon sequestration potential in forests in this region by generating conditions that foster tree growth. However, unsalvaged timber can also increase fire risk, thereby escalating the potential for carbon losses to the atmosphere. Effects of hurricane disturbance on community composition are complex and highlight the role that life history traits play in mediating species’ idiosyncratic responses to wind disturbance. Incorporating disturbance in estimates of carbon sequestration in forests will improve congruence between models and data.
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