Shiva Khanal

and 3 more

In the Central Himalayas, where environmental conditions vary greatly, understanding the biophysical limitations on forest carbon is crucial for accurately determining the region’s forest carbon stocks. This study investigates the role of climate and disturbance on the spatial variation of two key forest carbon pools: aboveground carbon (AGC) and soil organic carbon (SOC). Using field-observed plot-level carbon pool estimates from Nepal’s national forest inventory and structural equation modeling, we explore the relationship between forest carbon stocks and proxies of environmental constraints. The forest AGC and SOC models explained 25 % and 59 % of the observed spatial variation in forest AGC and SOC, respectively. The climatic availability of water and energy in broad-scale gradients combined with the fine-scale gradients of terrain and disturbance intensity were found to influence forest carbon stocks, but the sign and strength of the statistical relationships differ for forest AGC and SOC. While AGC showed a negative relationship to disturbance, SOC was impacted by the availability of climatic energy. Disturbances such as selective logging and firewood collection result in immediate forest carbon loss, while soil carbon changes take longer to respond. The lower decomposition rates in the high-elevation region, due to lower temperatures, preserve organic matter and contribute to the high SOC stocks observed there. These results have important implications for forest carbon management and conservation in the Central Himalayas.