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Characterizing above- and belowground carbon partitioning in forest trees along an altitudinal gradient using area-based indicators

Mao Z., Wang Y., Jourdan C., Cécillon L., Nespoulous J., Rey H., Saint André L., Stokes A.. 2015. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 47 (1) : p. 59-69.

DOI: 10.1657/AAAR0014-014

Characterizing the above- and belowground carbon stocks of ecosystems is vital for a better understanding of the role of vegetation in carbon cycling. Yet studies on forest ecosystems at high altitudes remain scarce. We examined above- and belowground carbon partitioning in trees growing in mixed montane/upper montane forest ecosystems in the French Alps. Field work was performed in three forests along a gradient of both altitude (1400 m, 1700 m, and 2000 m) and altitude-induced species composition (from lower altitude Abies alba and Fagus sylvatica to higher altitude Picea abies and Pinus uncinata). We performed forest inventories and root sampling along soil wall profiles, so that the stand basal area (SBA, in m2 ha-1) and root cross-sectional area (RCSA, in m2 ha-1) were estimated at each altitude. To characterize the carbon allocation trend between the above-and belowground compartments, the ratio of RCSA to SBA was then calculated. We found that both SBA and RCSA of coarse roots (diameter > 2 mm) were significantly different among the three altitudes. No significant difference in RCSA of fine roots (diameter ? 2 mm) was found among altitudes. The ratio of RCSA of fine roots to SBA augmented with increasing elevation, suggesting that forest ecosystems at higher altitudes allocate more carbon from above- to belowground organs. This increased allocation to fine roots would allow trees to scavenge nutrients more efficiently throughout the short growing season. Furthermore, this work highlighted the interest of using easy to measure area-based indicators as proxies of root and stem biomass when investigating carbon partitioning in highly heterogeneous montane/upper montane forests.

Mots-clés : forêt tempérée; altitude; abies alba; fagus sylvatica; picea abies; pinus uncinata; séquestration du carbone; cycle du carbone; Écosystème forestier; transport des substances nutritives; racine; alpes; france

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