Thinning represents an important and frequently used silvicultural technique that improves forest wood products and has obvious effects on forest carbon stocks and stock changes. Here, we used the carbon budget model CBM-CFS3 to simulate the effects of thinning on carbon storage and changes in larch forest ecosystems under thirteen thinning scenarios. Simulation results demonstrate that strong thinning greatly reduces the biomass carbon density of larch forests compared to non-thinning forests. The minimum and maximum average biomass carbon density, respectively, were 30.3 tC ha-1 and 47.8 tC ha-1, a difference of 58% under set scenarios in the simulated time scale. The dead organic matter (including soil) carbon density increased in all thinned larch forests stands, compared with non-thinning stands, and the pattern of variation was opposite to that found for biomass carbon density. However, the total ecosystem carbon density of larch forests declined with thinning because the increase in dead organic matter carbon is insufficient to offset the loss of biomass carbon caused by thinning. Thus, strong thinning can transform larch forest ecosystems from carbon sinks into carbon sources. Future work should consider the carbon sequestered in wood materials acquired via thinning and their use as substitutes for other construction materials with less favorable lifecycle carbon footprints, such as steel, cement, aluminum and PVC.
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