The limited contribution of large trees to annual biomass production in an old-growth tropical forest. Ecological Application
Although the importance of large trees regarding biodiversity and carbon stock in old-growth forests is undeniable, their annual contribution to biomass production and carbon uptake remains poorly studied at the stand level. To clarify the role of large trees in biomass production, we used data of tree growth, mortality and recruitment monitored during 20 years in 10 × 4-ha plots in a species rich tropical forest (Central African Republic). Using a random block design, three different silvicultural treatments, control, logged, and logged + thinned, were applied in the 10 plots. Annual biomass gains and losses were analyzed in relation to the relative biomass abundance of large trees and by tree size classes using a spatial bootstrap procedure. Although large trees had high individual growth rates constituted a substantial amount of biomass, stand-level biomass production decreased with the abundance of large trees in all treatments and plots. The contribution of large trees to annual stand-level biomass production appeared limited in comparison to that of small trees. This pattern did not only originate from differences in abundance of small versus large trees or differences in initial biomass stocks among tree size classes, but also from a reduced relative growth rate of large trees and a relatively constant mortality rate among tree size classes. In a context in which large trees are increasingly gaining attention as being a valuable and a key structural characteristic of natural forests, the present study brought key insights to better gauge the relatively limited role of large trees in annual stand-level biomass production. In terms of carbon uptake, these results suggest, as already demonstrated, a low net carbon uptake of old-growth forests in comparison to that of logged forests. Tropical forests that reach a successional stage with relatively high density of large trees progressively cease to be carbon sinks as large trees contribute sparsely or even negatively to the carbon uptake at the stand level.