"Nothing this drastic would ever happen in the United States today. However, it's going on all the time in developing world, and a less damaging pattern of harvest and fire is increasing in the western United States. And there are lasting consequences of that," Curtis said. "The persistent legacies of poor management practices on forest carbon storage in northern Michigan should serve as a caution to contemporary forest managers."
Finally, the age and species of trees in forests also affect carbon storage capacity. Old growth forests store relatively little carbon. More carbon is stored in older wood, but the rate of accumulation decreases over time because a higher rate of decomposition in soil and dead wood lowers the net gain of carbon storage.
Curtis noted that some policymakers are concerned that aging Great Lakes forests will show a decline in carbon storage capacity.
"We contend the situation here is different because of the nature of the land use. We consider them 'old young' forests. Aspens are aging, but underneath the aspens, waiting for them to die, are lots of young pine, oak, beech and maple. Once they get their turn, they will rejuvenate these forests in terms of carbon storage," he said.
The scientists are accelerating this phenomenon called succession in a segment of the Michigan forest to test this hypothesis.
"If we're right, this will give people incentive to hold onto forests and not cut them down. Though a younger forest might be considered more productive, we contend cutting would set things back because it would cause a lot of disturbance," Curtis said.
He hopes the combined assessments can be used for global policy discussions about forests' ability to store carbon.
"We now know where carbon is in a forest it's ver
|Contact: Peter Curtis|
Ohio State University