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Management trade-off between aboveground carbon storage and understory plant species richness in temperate forests Public Deposited

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  • Because forest ecosystems have the capacity to store large quantities of carbon (C), there is interest in managing forests to mitigate elevated CO[subscript 2] concentrations and associated effects on the global climate. However, some mitigation techniques may contrast with management strategies for other goals, such as maintaining and restoring biodiversity. Forest thinning reduces C storage in the overstory and recruitment of detrital C. These C stores can affect environmental conditions and resource availability in the understory, driving patterns in the distribution of early and late-seral species. We examined the effects of replicated (N = 7) thinning experiments on aboveground C and understory vascular plant species richness, and we contrasted relationships between aboveground C and early- vs. lateseral species richness. Finally, we used structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine relationships among early- and late-seral species richness and live and detrital aboveground C stores. Six years following thinning, aboveground C was greater in the high-density treatment and untreated control than in moderate- (MD) and variable-density (VD) treatments as a result of reductions in live overstory C. In contrast, all thinning treatments increased species richness relative to controls. Between the growing seasons of years 6 and 11 following treatments, the live overstory C increment tended to increase with residual density, while richness decreased in MD and VD treatments. The richness of early-seral species was negatively related to aboveground C in MD and VD, while late-seral species richness was positively (albeit weakly) related to aboveground C. Structural equation modeling analysis revealed strong negative effects of live overstory C on early-seral species richness balanced against weaker positive effects on late-seral species richness, as well as positive effects of detrital C stocks. A trade-off between carbon and plant species richness thus emerges as a net result of these relationships among species traits, thinning treatments, and live and detrital C storage. Integrating C storage with traditional conservation objectives may require managing this trade-off within stands and landscapes (e.g., maintain early-seral habitat and species within dense, C-rich forests and, conversely, live and detrital C stores in early-seral habitats) or separating these goals across scales and species groupings.
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  • Burton, J. I., Ares, A., Olson, D. H., & Puettmann, K. J. (2013). Management trade-off between aboveground carbon storage and understory plant species richness in temperate forests. Ecological Applications, 23(6), 1297-1310. doi:10.1890/12-1472.1
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  • 23
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  • 6
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  • Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
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