Carbon stocks of three secondary coniferous forests along an altitudinal gradient on Loess Plateau in inland China
Natural forests in inland China are generally distributed in montane area and secondary due to a semi-arid climate and past anthropogenic disturbances. However, quantification of carbon (C) stock in these forests and the role of altitude in determining C storage and its partition among ecosystem components are unclear. We sampled 54 stands of three secondary coniferous forests (Larix principis-rupprechtii (LP) forest, Picea meyerii (PM) forest and Pinus tabulaeformis (PT) forest) on Loess Plateau in an altitudinal range of 1200-2700m a.s.l. C stocks of tree layer, shrub layer, herb layer, coarse wood debris, forest floor and soil were estimated. We found these forests had relatively high total C stocks. Driven by both higher vegetation and soil C stocks, total C stocks of LP and PM forests in the high altitudinal range were 375.0 and 368.4 t C ha-1 respectively, significantly higher than that of PT forest in the low altitudinal range (230.2 t C ha-1). In addition, understory shrubs accounted for about 20% of total biomass in PT forest. The proportions of vegetation to total C stock were similar among in the three forests (below 45%), so were the proportions of soil C stock (over 54%). Necromass C stocks were also similar among these forests, but their proportions to total C stock were significantly lower in LP and PM forests (1.4% and 1.6%) than in PT forest (3.0%). Across forest types, vegetation biomass and soil C stock simultaneously increased with increasing altitude, causing fairly unchanged C partitioning among ecosystem components along the altitudinal gradient. Soil C stock also increased with altitude in LP and PT forests. Forest floor necromass decreased with increasing altitude across the three forests. Our results suggest the important role of the altitudinal gradient in C sequestration and floor necromass of these three forests in terms of alleviated water conditions and in soil C storage of LP and PM forests in terms of temperature change.