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The overlooked soil carbon under large, old trees

Dean, C, Kirkpatrick, JB ORCID: 0000-0003-2763-2692, Doyle, RB ORCID: 0000-0002-4704-7178, Osborn, J ORCID: 0000-0003-2278-3766, Fitzgerald, NB ORCID: 0000-0002-1281-6897 and Roxburgh, SH 2020 , 'The overlooked soil carbon under large, old trees' , Geoderma, vol. 376 , pp. 1-39 , doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2020.114541.

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Typical soil organic carbon (SOC) measurements do not account for the higher SOC concentration adjacent to, inside and under the trunks of large trees, or for the root volume which displaces soil and thereby reduces spatial density of SOC. Any net difference between these two omissions could have a significant impact on carbon accounts for the conversion of a primary forest with large trees to a type of land cover with much smaller trees, or no trees, such as to a secondary forest on short harvest cycles, or to deforested land, respectively. To improve knowledge of carbon stocks in primary forests, for better carbon management and climate change modelling, we sampled SOC and soil bulk density directly under large tree trunks, inside tree trunks, in the humus mounds in the buttress region, and under the humus mounds. The measurements were in primary Eucalyptus regnans mixed-forest. SOC was formulated as a function of depth. Adjacent to the trees, 90% of the total cumulative SOC was estimated to be within ~2.6 m of the mineral soil surface. That SOC was compared with an earlier measurement in the same locality of SOC in-between trees, away from the trunk and buttress. The SOC under large tree trunks was about four times more concentrated than in-between trees. Formulae that link SOC, root volume, and buttress shape, to tree diameter and ground slope were applied to forest stands within 54.4 ha of primary forest. When the under-trunk SOC was tallied with the organic soils associated with the buttress region and in nearly decomposed logs, SOC at the unit-area-level increased by ~7% [95% CI: 3–12%] relative to the in-between-tree SOC alone, and the absolute increase was 21 Mg ha-1 [95% CI: 10–37 Mg ha-1] of SOC. Our results suggest that, at least for land use change that fells mature trees >1 m in diameter, there may have been higher greenhouse gas emissions from past forest attrition than have been inferred. Globally, we identified 50 example tree species, other than E. regnans, that may also have extra SOC at the stand-level in the absence of fire. Additional SOC per hectare was positively correlated with basal area of trees, which increases with the number of large trees in a stand. The maintenance of large trees will help ensure higher levels of forest carbon. The protection of medium-sized trees will be necessary to ensure existence of large trees in the future.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Dean, C and Kirkpatrick, JB and Doyle, RB and Osborn, J and Fitzgerald, NB and Roxburgh, SH
Keywords: large tree, primary-fores, lignomor, soil organic carbon, climate-change, land use change, carbon, soil, trees, roots, buttress, rain forest
Journal or Publication Title: Geoderma
Publisher: Elsevier Science Bv
ISSN: 0016-7061
DOI / ID Number: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2020.114541
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Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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