Forest Ecosystem Carbon Dynamics

Forested ecosystems, which represent the largest component of the terrestrial sink for atmospheric CO2, play a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Better understanding of the mechanisms underlying long-term trends and annual-to-decadal-scale variability in forest carbon sink strength is therefore a key to reducing uncertainties about future levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, and hence global temperature. From an applied perspective, research in this area has far-reaching social and economic policy implications.

Carbon Allocation in Trees
Trees accumulate and store nonstructural carbohydrates as resources to be used to support future growth. This can be viewed as a conservative investment strategy, providing reserves that the tree can utilize in times of stress. NSC reserves are thus important in the context of forest responses to climate change. Understanding how big these reserves are, and how available they are to support growth and metabolism, is essential for predicting the resilience of forests to environmental and biotic stress factors. Research by our affiliates in the Richardson Lab uses a combination of field sampling, laboratory analyses, isotopic analyses, tree growth studies, and both process-based and statistical modeling to probe the dynamics, age, and availability of nonstructural carbohydrate reserves in forest trees, and to understand the physiological and ecological significance of these reserves.