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Carbon Content of Tree Tissues: A Synthesis

Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Earth Sciences Building, 33 Willcocks Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 3B3, Canada
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Forests 2012, 3(2), 332-352; https://doi.org/10.3390/f3020332
Received: 12 April 2012 / Revised: 24 May 2012 / Accepted: 11 June 2012 / Published: 19 June 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Forests for Carbon Capture and Storage)
Assessing the potential for forest carbon (C) capture and storage requires accurate assessments of C in live tree tissues. In the vast majority of local, regional, and global assessments, C content has been assumed to be 50% of tree biomass; however, recent studies indicate that this assumption is not accurate, with substantial variation in C content among tree species as well as among tissue types. Here we conduct a comprehensive literature review to present a global synthesis of C content in tissues of live trees. We found a total of 253 species-specific stem wood C content records in 31 studies, and an additional 34 records of species with C content values of other tissues in addition to stem wood. In all biomes, wood C content varied widely across species ranging from 41.9–51.6% in tropical species, 45.7–60.7% in subtropical/Mediterranean species, and 43.4–55.6% in temperate/boreal species. Stem wood C content varied significantly as a function of biome and species type (conifer, angiosperm). Conifer species exhibited greater wood C content than angiosperm species (50.8 ± 0.7% (95% C.I.) and 47.7 ± 0.3%, respectively), a trend that was consistent among all biomes. Although studies have documented differences in C content among plant tissues, interspecific differences in stem wood appear to be of greater importance overall: among species, stem wood C content explained 37, 76, 48, 81, and 63% respectively of the variation in bark, branch, twig, coarse root, and fine root C content values, respectively. In each case, these intraspecific patterns approximated 1:1 linear relationships. Most published stem wood C content values (and all values for other tree tissues) are based on dried wood samples, and so neglect volatile C constituents that constitute on average 1.3–2.5% of total C in live wood. Capturing this volatile C fraction is an important methodological consideration for future studies. Our review, and associated data compilation, provides empirically supported wood C fractions that can be easily incorporated into forest C accounting, and may correct systematic errors of ~1.6–5.8% in forest C assessments. View Full-Text
Keywords: carbon; forest; tree; volatile carbon; wood chemistry; carbon accounting; tropical forest; temperate forest; subtropical forest; boreal forest carbon; forest; tree; volatile carbon; wood chemistry; carbon accounting; tropical forest; temperate forest; subtropical forest; boreal forest
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Thomas, S.C.; Martin, A.R. Carbon Content of Tree Tissues: A Synthesis. Forests 2012, 3, 332-352.

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