Impacts of intensive forestry on early rotation trends in site carbon pools in the southeastern US
The effects of different silvicultural practices on site, especially soil, carbon (C) pools are still poorly known. We studied changes in site C pools during the first 5 years following harvesting and conversion of two extensively managed pine-hardwood stands to intensively managed loblolly pine plantations. One study site was located on the lower Atlantic Coastal Plain in North Carolina (NC) and another on the Gulf Coastal Plain in Louisiana (La). Four different harvesting-disturbance regimes were applied: stem only harvest (SO), whole tree harvest (WT), whole tree harvest with forest floor removal (WTFF), and full amelioration, i.e. whole tree harvest, disking, bedding and fertilization (FA; only in NC). Each harvesting-disturbance regime plot was split and one-half received annual herbicide treatments while the other half received no herbicide treatments.
In NC, soil C decreased slightly with WT, and increased with FA, otherwise no significant changes were detected. In La, there was a consistent decrease in soil C content from the pre-harvest value in all cases where herbicides were applied. All treatments caused a reduction in the forest floor C pool in NC. In La, the most intensive treatments also resulted in a decrease in the forest floor C, but to a smaller extent. In contrast, there was no net change in forest floor C with the SO and WT treatments, even though significant amounts of logging slash were added to the forest floor at harvest in the SO plots and not in the WT.
Herbicide treatment clearly decreased the C pool of hardwoods and understory, and more than doubled that of planted pines. Carbon accumulation in the planted pines was similar for trees growing in the SO, WT, and WTFF treatments on both the LA and NC sites. The full amelioration treatment (only applied at the NC site) led to a significant increase in C sequestration by the- planted pine component. Due to a large amount of voluntary pines, total 5-year pine C pool was highest on the non-herbicided intensive management plots on the NC site, however.
The differing response patterns of soil and forest floor C pools between the two sites may be due to their differing drainage- summer rainfall regimes. Our results suggest that while poor drainage-wet summer conditions may be impeding carbon loss from the soil component it may be accelerating the rate of decomposition of the forest floor and slash on the soil surface.