Forest Structural Complexity and Biomass Predict First-Year Carbon Cycling Responses to Disturbance

TitleForest Structural Complexity and Biomass Predict First-Year Carbon Cycling Responses to Disturbance
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsGough CM, Atkins JW, Bond-Lamberty B, Agee EA, Dorheim KR, Fahey RT, Grigri MS, Haber LT, Mathes KC, Pennington SC, Shiklomanov AN, Tallant JM
Date PublishedSep-08-2021

The pre-disturbance vegetation characteristics that predict carbon (C) cycling responses to disturbance are not well known. To address this gap, we initiated the Forest Resilience Threshold Experiment, a manipulative study in which more than 3600 trees were stem girdled to achieve replicated factorial combinations of four levels (control, 45, 65, and 85% gross defoliation) of disturbance severity and two disturbance types (targeting upper or lower canopy strata). Applying a standardized stability framework in which initial C cycling resistance to disturbance was calculated as the first-year natural log response ratio of disturbance and control treatments, we investigated to what extent pre-disturbance levels of species diversity, aboveground woody biomass, leaf area index, and canopy rugosity—a measure of structural complexity—predict the initial responses of subcanopy light-saturated leaf CO2 assimilation (Asat), aboveground wood NPP (ANPPw), and soil respiration (Rs) to phloem-disrupting disturbance. In the year following stem girdling, we found that above-ground C cycling processes, Asat and ANPPw, were highly resistant to increases in disturbance severity, while Rs resistance declined as severity increased. Disturbance type had no effect on first-year resistance. Pre-disturbance aboveground woody biomass, and canopy rugosity were positive predictors of ANPPw resistance and, conversely, negatively related to Rs resistance. Subcanopy Asat resistance was not related to pre-disturbance vegetation characteristics. Stability of C uptake processes along with Rs declines suggest the net C sink was sustained in the initial months following disturbance. We conclude that biomass and complexity are significant, but not universal, predictors of initial C cycling resistance to disturbance. Moreover, our findings highlight the utility of standardized stability measures when comparing functional responses to disturbance.

Short TitleEcosystems
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