Aboveground tree carbon stocks in West African semi-arid ecosystems: Dominance patterns, size class allocation and structural drivers

The importance of terrestrial ecosystems for carbon sequestration and climate regulation is acknowledged globally. However, the underlying structural drivers are still not well un- derstood, particularly across distinct tropical forest ecosystems where trees species have different growth habits and potential to reach different maximal size. In particular, how important are different tree size classes in contributing to stand aboveground carbon (AGC) remains unclear across forest ecosystems. Here, we hypothesized that (i) tree size classes would contribute differently to stand AGC across forest ecosystems; and (ii) few species, possibly dominant, would determine most of stand AGC. We tested these hy- potheses using a 17-ha sampled inventory data from gallery forests, woodlands and sa- vannahs in the Republic of Benin. We examined (i) how AGC stocks vary among small- (<20 cm), medium- (20e40 cm) and large-size (>40 cm diameter at breast height - dbh) trees; (ii) how the large size class and its individual species contribute to AGC; and (iii) how size class-based taxonomic and structural variables influence AGC?Stand AGC was 23 ± 5, 30 ± 8 and 42 ± 12 MgC ha-1 in savannah, woodland and gallery forest, respectively. There were significant main and interaction effects of vegetation types and size classes. As expected, medium and large-size classes contained more of the AGC, irrespective of the vegetation type. However, gallery forests had the lowest AGC in the <20 cm dbh class, but higher values in medium- and large-size classes as compared to woodlands and savannahs. The top 10 species contributed 82%, 89% and 91% of AGC in gallery forests, woodlands and savannahs, respectively. In addition, five of the top 10 dominant species were shared by the three vegetation types and alone contributed 70 e76% of AGC. Tree basal area was the most constant structural attribute influencing AGC; however, its influence shifted with vegetation type and size class, with greater effects of large-size tree basal area in gallery forests, and of medium trees and small trees’ basal area in woodlands and savannahs, respectively. The study shows that (i) AGC allocation to size class varied across vegetation types, and (ii) small and medium trees are also important in predicting AGC, especially in semi-arid environments dominated by high densities of small-size trees (e.g. woodlands and savannahs). It also highlights the importance of few dominant species in contributing a large proportion of AGC stocks. The conservation of these dominant species is essential to avoid substantial decline of AGC stock.
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West Africa
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