Open Access Research

Accounting for density reduction and structural loss in standing dead trees: Implications for forest biomass and carbon stock estimates in the United States

Grant M Domke1*, Christopher W Woodall1 and James E Smith2

Author Affiliations

1 USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, St. Paul, MN, USA

2 USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Durham, NH, USA

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Carbon Balance and Management 2011, 6:14  doi:10.1186/1750-0680-6-14

Published: 24 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Standing dead trees are one component of forest ecosystem dead wood carbon (C) pools, whose national stock is estimated by the U.S. as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Historically, standing dead tree C has been estimated as a function of live tree growing stock volume in the U.S.'s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Initiated in 1998, the USDA Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis program (responsible for compiling the Nation's forest C estimates) began consistent nationwide sampling of standing dead trees, which may now supplant previous purely model-based approaches to standing dead biomass and C stock estimation. A substantial hurdle to estimating standing dead tree biomass and C attributes is that traditional estimation procedures are based on merchantability paradigms that may not reflect density reductions or structural loss due to decomposition common in standing dead trees. The goal of this study was to incorporate standing dead tree adjustments into the current estimation procedures and assess how biomass and C stocks change at multiple spatial scales.

Results

Accounting for decay and structural loss in standing dead trees significantly decreased tree- and plot-level C stock estimates (and subsequent C stocks) by decay class and tree component. At a regional scale, incorporating adjustment factors decreased standing dead quaking aspen biomass estimates by almost 50 percent in the Lake States and Douglas-fir estimates by more than 36 percent in the Pacific Northwest.

Conclusions

Substantial overestimates of standing dead tree biomass and C stocks occur when one does not account for density reductions or structural loss. Forest inventory estimation procedures that are descended from merchantability standards may need to be revised toward a more holistic approach to determining standing dead tree biomass and C attributes (i.e., attributes of tree biomass outside of sawlog portions). Incorporating density reductions and structural loss adjustments reduces uncertainty associated with standing dead tree biomass and C while improving consistency with field methods and documentation.

Keywords:
carbon accounting; forest inventory; greenhouse gas; dead wood; snag; standing dead