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Short- and long-term responses of total soil organic carbon to harvesting in a northern hardwood forest


Kristofer Johnson
Frederick N. Scatena



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Forest Ecology and Management. 259(7): 1262-1267.


The long-term response of total soil organic carbon pools ('total SOC', i.e. soil and dead wood) to different harvesting scenarios in even-aged northern hardwood forest stands was evaluated using two soil carbon models, CENTURY and YASSO, that were calibrated with forest plot empirical data in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Overall, 13 different harvesting scenarios that included four levels of aboveground biomass removal (20%, 40%, 60% and 90%) and four different rotation lengths (60 year, 90 year, 120 year, and No Rotation (NR)) were simulated for a 360 year period. Simulations indicate that following an initial post-harvest increase, total SOC decreases for several decades until carbon inputs into the soil pool from the re-growth are greater than losses due to decomposition. At this point total SOC begins to gradually increase until the next harvest. One consequence of this recovery pattern is that between harvests, the size of the SOC pool in a standmay change from -7 to 18% of the pre-harvest pool, depending on the soil pool considered. Over 360 years, the average annual decrease in total SOC depends on the amount of biomass removed, the rotation length, and the soil pool considered. After 360 years a stand undergoing the 90yr-40% scenario will have 15% less total SOC than a non-harvested stand. Long-term declines in total SOC greater than 10% were observed in the 60yr-60%, 60yr-90%, and 90yr-90% scenarios. Long-term declines less than 5% were observed in scenarios with 120 year rotations that remove 60% or less of the aboveground biomass. The long-term decreases simulated here for common management scenarios in this region would require intensive sampling procedures to be detectable.


Johnson, Kristofer; Scatena, Frederick N.; Pan, Yude. 2010. Short- and long-term responses of total soil organic carbon to harvesting in a northern hardwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management. 259(7): 1262-1267.


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