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Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science

Forest Management and Soil Carbon – Project, publications and datasets

[photo:] A measuring tape indicates the top 10 cm of the “A” soil horizon. The “A”  horizon often contains the most carbon in the mineral soil profile.Forest soils hold about one-third of the carbon stored in Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems, but we still have much to learn about how management affects carbon
accumulation and loss in forest soils. Since maintaining soil carbon storage is important for mitigating climate change, sustaining forest productivity, and protecting water quality, it is vital to understand how practices like forest fertilization, timber harvesting, and prescribed burns affect forest soil carbon storage. These practices are valuable tools in the acquisition and protection of the natural resources that forests provide, and the ever-increasing human need for forest resources demands a sound scientific basis to management.


Our work involves collecting results from hundreds of studies of forest management and soil processes from around the world, and organizing these results into databases for statistical analysis. Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, which is also widely employed in clinical studies of medicine and human health, we are quantifying how soil carbon storage changes under different management regimes. Through this work, we are able to provide numeric estimates of how much soil carbon is lost or gained when a forest is fertilized, logged, or burned. In addition, our analysis identifies specific factors that influence the effects of management on soil carbon storage, such as soil type, geographic location, and forest species composition. We also include measurements of soil nitrogen (N) in our analyses, since N availability is a factor that strongly influences tree growth, soil carbon storage, and water quality in forested regions.


The results of our research are important for land managers, policymakers, carbon accountants, and scientists working on a variety of forest-related issues. Our study provides scientific information for establishing the role of forest soils in carbon sequestration programs, predicting the consequences of current management practices for future forest productivity, and understanding how ecological processes interact with human interventions to influence soil carbon and N storage.

Research Results and Publications

Nave L.E., Vance E.D., Swanston C.W., and Curtis P.S. 2009. Impacts of elevated N inputs on north temperate forest soil C storage, C/N, and net N-mineralization. Geoderma 153: 231-240.

Files for N inputs meta-analysis:

Nave L.E., Vance E.D., Swanston C.W., and Curtis P.S. 2010. Harvest impacts on soil carbon storage in temperate forests. Forest Ecology and Management  259: 857-866.

Files for Harvest meta-analysis:

Nave L.E., Vance E.D., Swanston C.W., and Curtis P.S. 2011. Fire effects on temperate forest soil C and N storage. Ecological Applications 21(4), 1189-1201.

Files for Fire meta-analysis:


  • Lucas Nave*, National Soil Carbon Network Coordinator at the Northern Institute of Applied Carbon Science and and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Michigan Biological Station (* principal contact)
  • Chris Swanston, Research Ecologist and NIACS director, U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.
  • Knute Nadelhoffer, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Director of University of Michigan Biological Station, University of Michigan
  • Eric Vance, Staff Scientist, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement


Last Modified: 01/02/2018