Impacts of Land Use/Cover on Ecosystem Carbon Storage in Apalachicola, FL
Type of Degreethesis
Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
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Rapid coastal development in response to a growing population raises concerns about human degradation of ecosystems. The importance of the carbon cycle and its role in climate regulation warrant the study of the effects of land use/cover on ecosystem carbon storage in an area of hastening anthropogenic development on the Florida Gulf Coast. Samples were collected to determine the carbon storage of vegetation and soils in natural pine forests, pine plantations, urban forests, urban lawns, and forested wetlands. An analysis of all land use/cover types revealed that forested wetlands have the greatest capacity to store soil and total ecosystem (soil + vegetation) carbon. Urban forests contained the highest vegetation carbon content and had the greatest productivity of the five land use/cover classes. No significant differences in the total vegetation or soil carbon content existed between natural forests and plantations or between urban forests and urban lawns. An urbanization analysis on better drained soils illustrated that urban forests had greater soil carbon content than natural pine forests and greater total vegetation carbon storage than plantations. The high carbon content of urban forests may reflect long-term protection from fire which plays an important role in reducing carbon pools in pine forests and plantations. The total ecosystem carbon storage of forested wetlands was notably higher than all other land use/cover types. Thus, protection of these ecosystems is of the utmost importance in order to maintain stability within the carbon cycle. A unique result of this study was greater carbon storage in urban ecosystems than in natural forests and plantations. Pine plantations, which tended to have the youngest, smallest trees, had the lowest carbon storage of all land uses/covers. Low productivity of these pine plantations is partially due to understocking and younger stands, but even if these systems were at rotation age, the carbon storage of plantations would still be lower than other land uses/covers. For example, a 25-year old plantation could store up to 80 Mg C/ha in the standing crop of vegetation while these urban forests store 93 Mg C/ha. Thus, plantations should not be promoted as a method of carbon sequestration for this particular location. County-level land use change predictions suggest that declines in ecosystem carbon storage are possible but can be lessened by protecting forested wetlands and incorporating patches of remnant forests within urban areas. A shift from timber production to community development by the largest private land owner in Florida will shape the future of this region. Conscientious development is essential to ensure stability in these coastal ecosystems.