Long-term carbon flux and balance in managed and natural coastal forested wetlands of the Southeastern USA
Wetlands store large carbon (C) stocks and play important roles in biogeochemical C cycling. However, the effects of environmental and anthropogenic pressures on C dynamics in lower coastal plain forested wetlands in the southern U.S. are not well understood. We established four eddy flux stations in two post-harvest and newlyplanted loblolly pine plantations (YP2–6, 2–6 yrs old; YP2–8, 2–8 yrs old), a rotation-aged loblolly pine plantations (MP, 15–27 yrs old), and a mixed bottomland hardwood forest (BHF, >100 yrs old) in the lower coastal plain of North Carolina, USA. We analyzed the gross primary productivity (GPP), ecosystem respiration (RE) and net ecosystem exchange (NEE) for age-related trends, interannual variability in response to climate forcing, and management-related disturbances from 2005 – 2017. For the first few years after being harvested, pine plantations were net C sources (NEE = 1133 and 897 g C m–2 yr–1 in YP2–6 and YP2–8, respectively). The MP was a strong C sink (–369 to –1131 g C m–2 yr–1) over the entire study period. In contrast, BHF was a C source (NEE = 87 g C m–2 yr–1 to 759 g C m–2 yr–1) in most years, although in the first year it did show a net C uptake (NEE = –368 g C m–2 yr–1). The source activity of BHF may have been related to increasing overstory tree mortality and diameter growth suppression. Decreases in relative extractable water in pine plantations enhanced GPP and RE. Pine plantations regained status as C sinks 5–8 years after harvest and recovered C equivalent to post-harvest losses at 8–14 years. Thus, coastal pine plantations have a net C uptake for only about half the 25- year rotation period, suggesting that they have decreased climate mitigation potential in comparison to protecting primary forests. However, primary forests in this area may be vulnerable to ecosystem transition, and subsequent C loss, due to the changing environmental conditions at the land-ocean interface.