Important role of forest disturbances in the global biomass turnover and carbon sinks

Thomas Pugh, Almut Arneth, Markus Kautz, Benjamin Poulter, Benjamin Smith

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28 Citations (Scopus)
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Forest disturbances that lead to the replacement of whole tree stands are a cornerstone of forest dynamics, with drivers that include fire, windthrow, biotic outbreaks and harvest. The frequency of disturbances may change over the next century with impacts on the age, composition and biomass of forests. However, the disturbance return time, that is, the mean interval between disturbance events, remains poorly characterized across the world’s forested biomes, which hinders the quantification of the role of disturbances in the global carbon cycle. Here we present the global distribution of stand-replacing disturbance return times inferred from satellite-based observations of forest loss. Prescribing this distribution within a vegetation model with a detailed representation of stand structure, we quantify the importance of stand-replacing disturbances for biomass carbon turnover globally over 2001–2014. The return time varied from less than 50 years in heavily managed temperate ecosystems to over 1,000 years in tropical evergreen forests. Stand-replacing disturbances accounted for 12.3% (95% confidence interval, 11.4–13.7%) of the annual biomass carbon turnover due to tree mortality globally, and in 44% of the forested area, biomass stocks are strongly sensitive to changes in the disturbance return time. Relatively small shifts in disturbance regimes in these areas would substantially influence the forest carbon sink that currently limits climate change by offsetting emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730–735
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number9
Early online date12 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
T.A.M.P. acknowledges funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 758873, TreeMort). T.A.M.P., A.A. and M.K. acknowledge support from EU FP7 grant LUC4C (grant no. 603542) and the Helmholtz Association in its ATMO programme and its impulse and networking fund. This is paper number 36 of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research. B.S. acknowledges funding from the Swedish Research Council FORMAS, the Strategic Research Area BECC and the Lund University Centre for Studies of Carbon Cycle and Climate Interactions (LUCCI). B.P. was supported by the NASA Terrestrial Ecology program. S. Hantson, S. Archibald, J. Sadler, T. Matthews and S. Petrovskii are thanked for discussions that helped improve the manuscript, as are M. Wulder for providing the Canadian ecozones mask, E. Ferranti for help with file conversion and V. Lehsten for assistance with the data deposition.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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