Vicente-Vicente, J. L., Fuss, S., Song, C., Lee, J., Kim, M., Lee, W-K., Son, Y.

A Holistic View of Soils in Delivering Ecosystem Services in Forests: A Case Study in South Korea

in Forests, 05.06.2019

Peer Review , Sustainable Resource Management and Global Change

In 1955, after the Korean War, only 35% of the national land area in South Korea was covered by forests. In the 1960s, the Korean Government implemented the national forestation program in order to increase the extent of the forest surface and thereby counteract the negative ecological consequences from deforestation, such as erosion and ground instability. According to previous studies, this led to an increase in carbon (C) accumulated in the forest biomass of 1.48 Gt CO2 (0.40 Gt C) in the period 1954–2012. However, these studies did not take into account the amount of soil organic carbon (SOC) that was accumulated during that period and the influence of management practices on soil ecosystem services. Currently, South Korean authorities are considering the idea of implementing some forest management practices in order to increase timber extraction (e.g., by reducing the cutting age of the trees or by applying thinning and tending measures). In this study, we assess the influence of these management regimes on SOC dynamics and propose a theoretical framework to assess the influence of forest management practices on three ecosystem services, namely, C sequestration, water supply, and biomass production, while considering soil functioning, and especially SOC, as a group of supporting services underpinning the three named ecosystem services. We find that, in terms of SOC sequestration, reducing the cutting age from 80 to 40 years would be suitable only in the case of high biomass production forests, whereas in the case of lower biomass production forests reducing the cutting age would achieve very low SOC levels. However, we propose that increasing tree species diversity, even though it would not lead to a direct increase in the SOC content, could help to lessen the negative effects of reducing the cutting age by improving other soil properties, which in turn positively affect soil functioning (e.g., soil biodiversity, nutrient availability) and the resilience of the forest ecosystem. Finally, we discuss potential policy approaches to incentivize sustainable management practices in South Korean forests from a soil protection perspective.

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