U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Ecological Complexity 25 (2016) pp. 11–17.


U.S. government work.


Disturbance regimes and forests have changed over time in the eastern United States. We examined effects of historical disturbance (circa 1813 to 1850) compared to current disturbance (circa 2004 to 2008) on aboveground, live tree biomass (for trees with diameters >/= 13 cm) and landscape variation of biomass in forests of the Ozarks and Plains landscapes in Missouri, USA. We simulated 10,000 one-hectare plots using random diameters generated from parameters of diameter distributions limited to diameters >/= 13 cm and random densities generated from density estimates. Area-weighted mean biomass density (Mg/ha) for historical forests averaged 116 Mg/ha, ranging from 54 Mg/ha to 357 Mg/ha by small scale ecological subsections within Missouri landscapes. Area-weighted mean biomass density for current forests averaged 82 Mg/ha, ranging from 66 Mg/ha to 144 Mg/ha by ecological subsection for currently forested land. Biomass density of current forest was greater than historical biomass density for only 2 of 23 ecological subsections. Current carbon sequestration of 292 TgC on 7 million ha of forested land is less than half of the estimated historical total carbon sequestration of 693 TgC on 12 million ha. Cumulative tree cutting disturbances over time have produced forests that have less aboveground tree biomass and are uniform in biomass compared to estimates of historical biomass, which varied across Missouri landscapes. With continued relatively low rates of forest disturbance, current biomass per ha will likely increase to historical levels as the most competitive trees become larger in size and mean number of trees per ha decreases due to competition and self-thinning. Restoration of large diameter structure and forested extent of upland woodlands and floodplain forests could fulfill multiple conservation objectives, including carbon sequestration.