Articles | Volume 13, issue 2
Biogeosciences, 13, 375–388, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-375-2016
Biogeosciences, 13, 375–388, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-375-2016

Research article 19 Jan 2016

Research article | 19 Jan 2016

The relative contributions of forest growth and areal expansion to forest biomass carbon

P. Li1,*, J. Zhu1,*, H. Hu2, Z. Guo1,3, Y. Pan4, R. Birdsey4, and J. Fang1 P. Li et al.
  • 1Department of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, and Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes, Ministry of Education, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • 2State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China
  • 3National Satellite Meteorological Center, China Meteorological Administration, Beijing 100081, China
  • 4US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Newtown Square, PA 19073, USA
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Forests play a leading role in regional and global terrestrial carbon (C) cycles. Changes in C sequestration within forests can be attributed to areal expansion (increase in forest area) and forest growth (increase in biomass density). Detailed assessment of the relative contributions of areal expansion and forest growth to C sinks is crucial to reveal the mechanisms that control forest C sinks and it is helpful for developing sustainable forest management policies in the face of climate change. Using the Forest Identity concept and forest inventory data, this study quantified the spatial and temporal changes in the relative contributions of forest areal expansion and increased biomass growth to China's forest biomass C sinks from 1977 to 2008. Over the last 30 years, the areal expansion of forests has been a larger contributor to C sinks than forest growth for planted forests in China (62.2 % vs. 37.8 %). However, for natural forests, forest growth has made a larger contribution than areal expansion (60.4 % vs. 39.6 %). For all forests (planted and natural forests), growth in area and density has contributed equally to the total C sinks of forest biomass in China (50.4 % vs. 49.6 %).The relative contribution of forest growth of planted forests showed an increasing trend from an initial 25.3 % to 61.0 % in the later period of 1998 to 2003, but for natural forests, the relative contributions were variable without clear trends, owing to the drastic changes in forest area and biomass density over the last 30 years. Our findings suggest that afforestation will continue to increase the C sink of China's forests in the future, subject to sustainable forest growth after the establishment of plantations.

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Our findings suggest that the mechanisms underlying the carbon sinks for natural and planted forests of China differ markedly with various effects from areal expansion and increase in carbon density. The increasing trend in the relative contribution of forest growth to carbon sinks for planted forests highlights that afforestation will continue to increase the carbon sink of China's forests in the future, subject to persistently increasing forest growth after the establishment of plantations.
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