Contrasting development of declining and living larch-spruce stands after a disturbance event: A case study from the High Tatra Mts.

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Abstract

The decline of spruce stands caused by bark beetle outbreaks is a serious economic and ecological problem of forestry in Slovakia. In the preceding period, the decline affected mainly secondary spruce forests. Over the last decade, due to large bark-beetle outbreaks this problem has been observed also in natural spruce forests, even at high elevations. We dealt with this issue in a case study of short-term development of larch-spruce stands in the High Tatras (at a site called Štart). We compared the situation in the stand infested by bark beetles several years after the wind-throw in 2004 with the stand unaffected by bark beetles. We separately analysed the development of the mature (parent) stands and the regeneration. The results indicated that forest decline caused by bark beetles significantly depended on the stand structure (mainly tree species composition), which affected the period of stand disintegration. Mortality of spruce trees slowed down biomass accumulation (and thus carbon sequestration) in the forest ecosystem. In the new stand, pioneer tree species dominated (in the conditions of the High Tatras it is primarily rowan), although their share in the parent stand was negligible. The results showed different trends in the accumulation of below-ground and above-ground biomass in the declined and living stands. In the first years after the stand decline, rowan accumulated significantly more biomass than the main tree species, i.e. spruce. The reverse situation was under the surviving stand, where spruce trees accumulated more biomass than rowan. The different share of spruce and pioneer tree species, mainly rowan, affected the ratio between fixed (in woody parts of trees) and rotating (in foliage) carbon in the undergrowth. Forest die-back is a big source of carbon emissions from dead individuals, and the compensation of these losses in the form of carbon sequestration by future stands is a matter of several decades.

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