Forest Thinning in Ponderosa Pines Increases Carbon Use Efficiency and Energy Flow From Primary Producers to Primary Consumers

Christopher E. Doughty, Tomos O. Prŷs-Jones, Andrew J. Abraham, Thomas E. Kolb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A better understanding of carbon use efficiency (CUE) and carbon allocation during disturbance is critical to improve simulations of the global carbon cycle and understanding future climate impacts. Forest thinning of high-stem density, high elevation dry western US forests is becoming more common to reduce severe fire danger but there are uncertainties about how forest thinning may impact forest CUE, carbon allocation and energy flow through the food chain. In three, quarter ha stands with similar soils, elevation and climate along a forest thinning gradient near Flagstaff (AZ), we measured total net primary production (NPP of wood, fine root, and leaves), total autotrophic respiration (Ra of wood, rhizosphere, and canopy respiration), gross primary production (GPP = NPP + Ra) and large mammal herbivory (with camera traps and dung counts) over a ∼2-year period. We found strong seasonality in all carbon cycling variables and herbivory, peaking during the warm, wet monsoon period. Carbon was produced more efficiently in the thinned stands, with carbon use efficiency (CUE = NPP/GPP) of ∼0.63, versus the unthinned stand with CUE of 0.38. GPP was similar in the two thinned stands (∼3.5 Mg C ha−1 yr−1) but was about 30% greater in the unthinned stands (5.0 Mg C ha−1 yr−1). Finally, the thinned stand had higher understory NPP, large herbivore consumption and had triple the total energy going into primary consumers. Overall, the thinning, and the return to a more natural prefire suppression forest structure, increased the CUE and energy flow from primary producers to primary consumers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JG005947
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • CUE
  • Flagstaff watershed protection project
  • Ponderosa Pine
  • carbon allocation
  • forest thinning
  • herbivory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Soil Science
  • Palaeontology
  • Ecology
  • Atmospheric Science


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