Edge effects enhance carbon uptake and its vulnerability to climate change in...

Reinmann, A. B., and L. R. Hutyra (2017), Edge effects enhance carbon uptake and its vulnerability to climate change in temperate broadleaf forests, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 114, 107-112, doi:10.1073/pnas.1612369114.

Forest fragmentation is a ubiquitous, ongoing global phenomenon with profound impacts on the growing conditions of the world’s remaining forest. The temperate broadleaf forest makes a large contribution to the global terrestrial carbon sink but is also the most heavily fragmented forest biome in the world. We use field measurements and geospatial analyses to characterize carbon dynamics in temperate broadleaf forest fragments. We show that forest growth and biomass increase by 89 ± 17% and 64 ± 12%, respectively, from the forest interior to edge, but ecosystem edge enhancements are not currently captured by models or approaches to quantifying regional C balance. To the extent that the findings from our research represent the forest of southern New England in the United States, we provide a preliminary estimate that edge growth enhancement could increase estimates of the region’s carbon uptake and storage by 13 ± 3% and 10 ± 1%, respectively. However, we also find that forest growth near the edge declines three times faster than that in the interior in response to heat stress during the growing season. Using climate projections, we show that future heat stress could reduce the forest edge growth enhancement by one-third by the end of the century. These findings contrast studies of edge effects in the world’s other major forest biomes and indicate that the strength of the temperate broadleaf forest carbon sink and its capacity to mitigate anthropogenic carbon emissions may be stronger, but also more sensitive to climate change than previous estimates suggest.

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Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Program (CCEP)