Carbon Accumulation by Southeastern Forests May Slow

Carbon accumulation levels in the southeastern U.S. may be slowing due to forest dynamics and land use changes, according to findings of U.S. Forest Service researchers published in the journal Scientific Reports in January.

The study is the first to isolate the impacts of forest disturbances, such as fire, disease, and cutting, as well as the impacts of land use change using permanent monitoring locations across the Southeast, making it one of the most thorough carbon studies completed.

Researchers show that future carbon accumulation rates are highly sensitive to future land use changes. Land use choices that either reduce the rate of afforestation or increase the rate of deforestation are key factors in future forest carbon accumulation.

The aging of forests in the region was also a significant force behind potential slowing accumulation rates as growth rates are typically lower for older forest. The study found forests to be fairly resilient to natural disturbances caused by weather, insects, diseases and fires. These disturbances reduced carbon accumulation rates but the losses were compensated by subsequent regrowth and storage in dead material on the site.

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