Society has placed greater focus on the ecological service of urban forests; however, more information is required on the variation of carbon (C) in trees and soils in different functional forest types, administrative districts, and urban-rural gradients. To address this issue, we measured various tree and soil parameters by sampling 219 plots in the urban forest of the Harbin city region. Averaged tree and soil C stock density (C stocks per unit tree cover) for Harbin city were 7.71 (±7.69) kg C·m−2
and 5.48 (±2.86) kg C·m−2
, respectively. They were higher than those of other Chinese cities (Shenyang and Changchun), but were much lower than local natural forests. The tree C stock densities varied 2.3- to 3.2-fold among forest types, administrative districts, and ring road-based urban-rural gradients. In comparison, soil organic C (SOC) densities varied by much less (1.4–1.5-fold). We found these to be urbanization-dependent processes, which were closely related to the urban-rural gradient data based on ring-roads and settlement history patterns. We estimated that SOC accumulation during the 100-year urbanization of Harbin was very large (5 to 14 thousand tons), accounting for over one quarter of the stored C in trees. Our results provide new insights into the dynamics of above- and below-ground C (especially in soil) during the urbanization process, and that a city’s ability to provide C-related ecosystem services increases as it ages. Our findings highlight that urbanization effects should be incorporated into calculations of soil C budgets in regions subject to rapid urban expansion, such as China.
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