Accounting for Biomass Carbon Stock Change Due to Wildfire in Temperate Forest Landscapes in Australia
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Carbon stock change due to forest management and disturbance must be accounted for in UNFCCC national inventory reports and for signatories to the Kyoto Protocol. Impacts of disturbance on greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are important for many countries with large forest estates prone to wildfires. Our objective was to measure changes in carbon stocks due to short-term combustion and to simulate longer-term carbon stock dynamics resulting from redistribution among biomass components following wildfire. We studied the impacts of a wildfire in 2009 that burnt temperate forest of tall, wet eucalypts in south-eastern Australia. Biomass combusted ranged from 40 to 58 tC ha-1, which represented 6-7% and 9-14% in low- and high-severity fire, respectively, of the pre-fire total biomass carbon stock. Pre-fire total stock ranged from 400 to 1040 tC ha-1 depending on forest age and disturbance history. An estimated 3.9 TgC was emitted from the 2009 fire within the forest region, representing 8.5% of total biomass carbon stock across the landscape. Carbon losses from combustion were large over hours to days during the wildfire, but from an ecosystem dynamics perspective, the proportion of total carbon stock combusted was relatively small. Furthermore, more than half the stock losses from combustion were derived from biomass components with short lifetimes. Most biomass remained on-site, although redistributed from living to dead components. Decomposition of these components and new regeneration constituted the greatest changes in carbon stocks over ensuing decades. A critical issue for carbon accounting policy arises because the timeframes of ecological processes of carbon stock change are longer than the periods for reporting GHG inventories for national emissions reductions targets. Carbon accounts should be comprehensive of all stock changes, but reporting against targets should be based on human-induced changes in carbon stocks to incentivise mitigation activities.
© 2014 Keith et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CCAL. (http://www.plos.org/journals/license.html)
Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified