Forest aging, disturbance and the carbon cycle

New Phytol. 2018 Sep;219(4):1188-1193. doi: 10.1111/nph.15227. Epub 2018 May 16.


Contents Summary 1188 I. Introduction 1188 II. Forest aging and carbon storage 1189 III. Successional trends of NEP in northern deciduous forests 1190 IV. Mechanisms sustaining NEP in aging deciduous forests 1191 Acknowledgements 1192 References 1192 SUMMARY: Large areas of forestland in temperate North America, as well as in other parts of the world, are growing older and will soon transition into middle and then late successional stages exceeding 100 yr in age. These ecosystems have been important regional carbon sinks as they recovered from prior anthropogenic and natural disturbance, but their future sink strength, or annual rate of carbon storage, is in question. Ecosystem development theory predicts a steady decline in annual carbon storage as forests age, but newly available, direct measurements of forest net CO2 exchange challenge that prediction. In temperate deciduous forests, where moderate severity disturbance regimes now often prevail, there is little evidence for any marked decline in carbon storage rate during mid-succession. Rather, an increase in physical and biological complexity under these disturbance regimes may drive increases in resource-use efficiency and resource availability that help to maintain significant carbon storage in these forests well past the century mark. Conservation of aging deciduous forests may therefore sustain the terrestrial carbon sink, whilst providing other goods and services afforded by these biologically and structurally complex ecosystems.

Keywords: FLUXNET; carbon cycle; disturbance; eddy covariance; forest; net ecosystem production; succession.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Carbon Cycle*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Forests*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon