Post-disturbance recovery of forest carbon in a temperate forest landscape under climate change

Laura Dobor, Tomáš Hlásny, Werner Rammer, Ivan Barka, Jiří Trombik, Pavol Pavlenda, Vladimír Šebeň, Petr Štěpánek, Rupert Seidl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Disturbances alter composition, structure, and functioning of forest ecosystems, and their legacies persist for decades to centuries. We investigated how temperate forest landscapes may recover their carbon (C) after severe wind and bark beetle disturbance, while being exposed to climate change. We used the forest landscape and disturbance model iLand to quantify (i) the recovery times of the total ecosystem C, (ii) the effect of climate change on C recovery, and (iii) the differential factors contributing to C recovery. We reconstructed a recent disturbance episode (2008–2016) based on Landsat satellite imagery, which affected 39% of the forest area in the 16,000 ha study landscape. We subsequently simulated forest recovery under a continuation of business-as-usual management until 2100. Our results indicated that the recovery of the pre-disturbance C stocks (C payback time) was reached 17 years after the end of the disturbance episode. The C stocks of a theoretical undisturbed development trajectory were reached 30 years after the disturbance episode (C sequestration parity). Drier and warmer climates delayed simulated C recovery. Without the fertilizing effect of CO2, C payback times were delayed by 5–9 years, while C parity was not reached within the 21st century. Recovery was accelerated by an enhanced C uptake compared to undisturbed conditions (disturbance legacy sink effect) that persisted for 35 years after the disturbance episode. Future climate could have negative impacts on forest recovery and thus further amplify climate change through C loss from ecosystems, but the effect is strongly contingent on the magnitude and persistence of alleviating CO2 effects. Our modelling study highlights the need to consider both negative and positive effects of disturbance (i.e., C loss immediately after an event vs. enhanced C uptake of the recovering forest) in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of disturbance effects on the forest C cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-322
Number of pages15
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • CO fertilization
  • Central Europe
  • Disturbance recovery
  • Forest carbon sink
  • Legacy sink
  • Norway spruce


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