Long-Term Increase in Aboveground Carbon Stocks Following Exclusion of Grazers and Forest Establishment in an Alpine Ecosystem

James D. M. Speed et al. (Atle Mysterud) in Ecosystems. Recommended by F1000Prime.

James D. M. Speed, Vegard Martinsen, Atle Mysterud, Jan Mulder, Øystein Holand, Gunnar Austrheim


Ecosystem stores of carbon are a key component in the global carbon cycle. Many studies have examined the impact of climate change on ecosystem carbon storage, but few have investigated the impact of land-use change and herbivory. However, land-use change is a major aspect of environmental change, and livestock grazing is the most extensive land use globally. In this study, we combine a grazing exclosure experiment and a natural experiment to test the impact of grazer exclusion on vegetation dynamics and ecosystem carbon stores in the short term (12-year exclosures), and the long term (islands inaccessible to livestock), in a heavily grazed mountain region in Norway. Following long-term absence of sheep, birch forest was present. The grazing-resistant grass Nardus stricta, dominated under long-term grazing, whilst the selected grass Deschampsia flexuosa and herb species dominated the vegetation layer in the long-term absence of sheep. The established birch forest led to vegetation carbon stocks being higher on the islands (0.56 kg C m−2 on the islands compared to 0.18 kg C m−2 where grazed) and no difference in soil carbon stocks. In the short-term exclusion of sheep, there were minor differences in carbon stocks reflecting the longer term changes. These results show that aboveground carbon stocks are higher in the long-term absence of sheep than in the continual presence of high sheep densities, associated with a vegetation state change between tundra and forest. The reduction of herbivore populations can facilitate forest establishment and increase aboveground carbon stocks, however, the sequestration rate is low.

November 2014, Volume 17, Issue 7, pp 1138-1150
Online: 17 Jun 2014

Tags: Ecosystems;
Published Nov. 21, 2014 12:31 PM - Last modified Nov. 21, 2014 12:31 PM