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Estimating uncertainty in the volume and carbon storage of downed coarse woody debris

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Ecological Applications


Downed coarse woody debris, also known as coarse woody detritus or downed dead wood, is challenging to estimate for many reasons, including irregular shapes, multiple stages of decay, and the difficulty of identifying species. In addition, some properties are commonly not measured, such as wood density and carbon concentration. As a result, there have been few previous evaluations of uncertainty in estimates of downed coarse woody debris, which are necessary for analysis and interpretation of the data. To address this shortcoming, we quantified uncertainties in estimates of downed coarse woody debris volume and carbon storage using data collected from permanent forest inventory plots in the northeastern United States by the Forest Inventory and Analysis program of the USDA Forest Service. Quality assurance data collected from blind remeasurement audits were used to quantify error in diameter measurements, hollowness of logs, species identification, and decay class determination. Uncertainty estimates for density, collapse ratio, and carbon concentration were taken from the literature. Estimates of individual sources of uncertainty were combined using Monte Carlo methods. Volume estimates were more reliable than carbon storage, with an average 95% confidence interval of 15.9 m3/ha across the 79 plots evaluated, which was less than the mean of 31.2 m3/ha. Estimates of carbon storage (and mass) were more uncertain, due to poorly constrained estimates of the density of wood. For carbon storage, the average 95% confidence interval was 11.1 Mg C/ha, which was larger than the mean of 4.6 Mg C/ha. Accounting for the collapse of dead wood as it decomposes would improve estimates of both volume and carbon storage. On the other hand, our analyses suggest that consideration of the hollowness of downed coarse woody debris pieces could be eliminated in this region, with little effect. This study demonstrates how uncertainty analysis can be used to quantify confidence in estimates and to help identify where best to allocate resources to improve monitoring designs.


carbon; coarse woody debris; dead wood; error analysis; forest inventory; Monte Carlo; uncertainty


Campbell, John L.; Green, Mark B.; Yanai, Ruth D.; Woodall, Christopher W.; Fraver, Shawn; Harmon, Mark E.; Hatfield, Mark A.; Barnett, Charles J.; See, Craig R.; Domke, Grant M. 2019. Estimating uncertainty in the volume and carbon storage of downed coarse woody debris. Ecological Applications. 29(2): e01844-.

Last updated on: March 4, 2019