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Journal Article

Influence of land-use intensification on vegetation C-stocks in an alpine valley from 1865 to 2003

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Niedertscheider, M., Tasser, E., Patek, M., Ruedisser, J., Tappeiner, U., & Erb, K.-H. (2017). Influence of land-use intensification on vegetation C-stocks in an alpine valley from 1865 to 2003. Ecosystems, 20(8), 1391-1406. doi:10.1007/s10021-017-0120-5.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-3991-9
The role of ecosystems as carbon (C) sinks or sources is intrinsically related to land-use intensity, which determines the land required for biomass production. Here, we systematically investigate the role of different land-use types including their land-use intensities on vegetation C-stocks (SCact) in the Stubai valley, located in the Austrian central Alps. After a period of high land-use impacts until 1954, indicated by massive C-depletion, land-use shifted to completely new courses. Polarization into high-intensity low-land areas and extensification at higher altitudes allowed for a tripling of SCact until 2003. The most important land-use change was the intensification of the livestock sector accompanied by abandonment of extensive grasslands and reduced harvest pressure on forests after WWII. Market integration, abundance of fossil energy carriers, as well as structural change of the economy were important underlying socio-economic drivers of these trends. However, despite this remarkable SCact increase, SCact amounted to only 62% of the potential carbon stocks (SCpot) in 2003. Although conversion of forests to agriculture clearly contributed the lion's share to this SC-gap, forest management explains roughly one quarter of the SC-difference. We found that time-lags between land-use shifts and the establishment of a new C-climax had fundamental repercussions on recent C-dynamics in the study region. Apparently, the land system is still net-accumulating C, although land-use changes have peaked decades earlier. Our findings are crucial for the understanding of C-dynamics, including the role of land management and time-lags in mountainous regions, which are regarded key areas for terrestrial C-sequestration.