By Suzanne W. Simard et al
Temperate forests provide crucial ecosystems services as living sinks for atmospheric carbon (C) and repositories of biodiversity. Applying harvesting at intensities that minimize losses offers one means for mitigating global change. However, little is known of overstory retention levels that best conserve ecosystem services in different regional climates, and likewise as climate changes. To quantify the effect of harvest intensity on C stocks and biodiversity, we compared five harvesting intensities (clearcutting, seedtree retention, 30% patch retention, 60% patch retention, and uncut controls) across a climatic aridity gradient that ranged from humid to semi-arid in the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests of British Columbia. We found that increased harvesting intensity reduced total ecosystem, aboveground, and live tree C stocks 1 year post- harvest, and the magnitude of these losses were negatively correlated with climatic aridity. In humid forests, total ecosystem C ranged from 50% loss following clearcut harvest, to 30% loss following large patch retention harvest. In arid forests this range was 60 to 8% loss, respectively. Where lower retention harvests are sought, the small patch retention treatment protected both C stocks and biodiversity in the arid forests, whereas the seedtree method performed as well or better in the humid forests. Below-ground C stocks declined by an average of 29% after harvesting, with almost all of the loss from the forest floor and none from the mineral soil. Of the secondary pools, standing and coarse deadwood declined in all harvesting treatments regardless of cutting intensity or aridity, while C stocks in fine fuels and stumps increased. The understory plant C pool declined across all harvesting intensities in the humid forests, but increased in arid forests. Shannon’s diversity and richness of tree and bryoid species declined with harvesting intensity, where tree species losses were greatest in the humid forests and bryoid losses greatest in arid forests. Shrub and herb species were unaffected. This study showed that the highest retention level was best at reducing losses in C stocks and biodiversity, and clearcutting the poorest, and while partial retention of canopy trees can reduce losses in these ecosystem services, outcomes will vary with climatic aridity.