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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2023
  2. Major efforts are underway to harness the carbon sequestration capacity of forests to combat global climate change. However, tree damage and death associated with insect and disease disturbance can reduce this carbon sequestration capacity. We quantified average annual changes in live tree carbon accumulation associated with insect and disease disturbances utilizing the most recent (2001 – 2019) remeasurement data from National Forest Inventory plots in the contiguous United States. Forest plots recently impacted by insect disturbance sequestered on average 69% less carbon in live trees than plots with no recent disturbance, and plots recently impacted by disease disturbance sequestered on average 28% less carbon in live trees than plots with no recent disturbance. Nationally, we estimate that carbon sequestration by live trees, defined as the estimated average annual rate of above- and belowground carbon accumulation in live trees (diameter at breast height ≥ 2.54 cm) on forest land, has been reduced by 9.33 teragrams carbon per year (95% confidence interval: 7.11 to 11.58) in forests that have experienced recent insect disturbance and 3.49 teragrams carbon per year (95% confidence interval: 1.30 to 5.70) in forests that have experienced recent disease disturbance, for a total reduction of 12.83 teragrams carbon permore »year (95% confidence interval: 8.41 to 17.28). Strengthened international trade policies and phytosanitary standards as well as improved forest management have the potential to protect forests and their natural capacity to contribute to climate change mitigation.« less
  3. Abstract

    Changing forest disturbance regimes and climate are driving accelerated tree mortality across temperate forests. However, it remains unknown if elevated mortality has induced decline of tree populations and the ecological, economic, and social benefits they provide. Here, we develop a standardized forest demographic index and use it to quantify trends in tree population dynamics over the last two decades in the western United States. The rate and pattern of change we observe across species and tree size-distributions is alarming and often undesirable. We observe significant population decline in a majority of species examined, show decline was particularly severe, albeit size-dependent, among subalpine tree species, and provide evidence of widespread shifts in the size-structure of montane forests. Our findings offer a stark warning of changing forest composition and structure across the western US, and suggest that sustained anthropogenic and natural stress will likely result in broad-scale transformation of temperate forests globally.

  4. Plant-fungal symbioses play critical roles in vegetation dynamics and nutrient cycling, modulating the impacts of global changes on ecosystem functioning. Here, we used forest inventory data consisting of more than 3 million trees to develop a spatially resolved “mycorrhizal tree map” of the contiguous United States. We show that abundances of the two dominant mycorrhizal tree groups—arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) and ectomycorrhizal trees—are associated primarily with climate. Further, we show that anthropogenic influences, primarily nitrogen (N) deposition and fire suppression, in concert with climate change, have increased AM tree dominance during the past three decades in the eastern United States. Given that most AM-dominated forests in this region are underlain by soils with high N availability, our results suggest that the increasing abundance of AM trees has the potential to induce nutrient acceleration, with critical consequences for forest productivity, ecosystem carbon and nutrient retention, and feedbacks to climate change.