Plant community composition as a predictor of regional soil carbon storage in Alaskan boreal black spruce ecosystems

T. N. Hollingsworth, E. A.G. Schuur, F. S. Chapin, M. D. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The boreal forest is the largest terrestrial biome in North America and holds a large portion of the world's reactive soil carbon. Therefore, understanding soil carbon accumulation on a landscape or regional scale across the boreal forest is useful for predicting future soil carbon storage. Here, we examined the relationship between floristic composition and ecosystem parameters, such as soil carbon pools, the carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio of live black spruce needles, and normalized basal area increment (NBAI) of trees in black spruce communities, the most widespread forest type in the boreal forest of Alaska. Variability in ecosystem properties among black spruce stands was as large as that which had previously been documented among all forest types in the central interior of Alaska; we found an eightfold range in NBAI and fivefold range in mineral soil carbon and nitrogen pools. Acidic black spruce communities had significantly more carbon in the organic soil horizon than did nonacidic black spruce communities, but did not differ in any other measured ecosystem parameter. We explained 48% of the variation in total soil carbon with a combination of plant community indices and abiotic and biotic factors. Plant community composition was at least as effective as any single environmental factor or stand characteristic in predicting soil C pools in Alaskan black spruce ecosystems. We conclude that among the community properties analyzed, the presence of key groups of species, overall species composition, and diversity of certain functional types, especially Sphagnum moss species, are important predictors of soil carbon sequestration in the black spruce forest type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)629-642
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Boreal carbon sequestration
  • Ecosystem parameters
  • Ecosystem structure
  • Floristic composition
  • Functional groups
  • Species diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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