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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 59(7)

The impact of harvesting native forests on vegetation and soil C stocks, and soil CO2, N2O and CH4 fluxes

K. L. Page A C , R. C. Dalal A and R. J. Raison B

A Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, Ecosciences Precinct, 41 Boggo Road, Dutton Park, Qld 4102, Australia.
B CSIRO, Ecosystem Sciences, Gungahlin Homestead, Bellenden Street, Crace, ACT 2911, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: Kathryn.Page@derm.qld.gov.au

Australian Journal of Botany 59(7) 654-669 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT11207
Submitted: 12 August 2011  Accepted: 30 September 2011   Published: 23 November 2011


 
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Abstract

Australia’s harvested native forests are extremely diverse in terms of species-mix, disturbance history and ecology, forest productivity and C storage. Our understanding of the effects of harvesting on C storage and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from these systems is incomplete, and this paper consolidates current Australian knowledge, places this in a global context, and identifies areas requiring further study. The uptake of CO2 and the re-accumulation of forest C stocks after harvesting or other disturbance is largely dependent on forest primary production. However, in Australian native forests, knowledge of rates of primary production for the diverse range of species and management practices present is poor. Soil respiration rates following harvest have also been largely unquantified for Australian systems. It is essential that both these parameters are quantified if estimates of net ecosystem production (NEP) are to be made. It is generally acknowledged that harvested forests have a negative NEP, and thus are sources of C, immediately following harvest, but attain a positive NEP as the forest regrows and photosynthetic capacity increases. The magnitude and time course of these changes are largely unknown for most Australian forest systems. In addition, little data are available to quantify the effect on soil C storage, and where estimates have been made these are often subject to methodological uncertainty and are thus highly contentious. Following harvest, the changes that occur to soil structure, moisture content, and N cycling may also influence CH4 and N2O flux, although these fluxes also remain largely unquantified in harvested Australian forests. Given the significant changes to NEP, CH4 and N2O fluxes observed after forest harvest in international studies, it is expected that GHG fluxes would typically increase from Australian native forests following harvest, and then slowly decrease over time as biomass accumulates, and N2O and CH4 fluxes return to background levels. However, it is currently difficult to quantify the magnitude and time course of these changes due to a lack of both gas flux and primary production measurements. Clearly, further research effort to quantify these parameters throughout Australia is required in order to obtain a more reliable picture of the effects of harvesting and other disturbances on forest GHG balance.



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