Carbon pools in stream-riparian corridors: legacy of disturbance along mountain streams of south-eastern Wyoming

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Ruffing, C.M., K.A. Dwire, and M.D. Daniels. 2015. Earth Surfaces Processes and Landforms 41(2):208–223.

doi: 10.1002/esp.3830


Streams and their accompanying riparian environments are intrinsic components of terrestrial carbon cycling. However, they have been understudied in terms of the magnitude of their storage components and the role of disturbance in determining carbon storage capacity. This study presents partial carbon budgets for stream-riparian corridors along six study reaches in mountain headwater streams of southeast Wyoming to evaluate the impact of tie-driving, a historic disturbance legacy, on contemporary carbon storage. Detailed measurements of biomass were collected for in-stream components of carbon including fine and coarse particulate organic matter and in-stream large wood. Biomass was also estimated for riparian components including standing trees (live and dead), regenerating conifers, shrubs and herbaceous vegetation, downed wood, litter, and duff (partially decayed litter). Biomass was converted to carbon for all components and differences in storage were compared between tie-driven and non-driven reaches. Carbon content in riparian soils (to approximately 20 cm) was also measured. Twice the amount of carbon was stored in the riparian areas relative to the streams; most carbon was stored in standing trees (live and dead). While overall carbon storage within the riparian areas and streams were similar between disturbance conditions, the amount of carbon stored in large in-stream wood and downed wood on the floodplain was significantly higher in systems that were not tie-driven. The results of this study indicate that legacies of tie-driving influence carbon storage within the region, while also capturing baseline estimates of carbon storage in the wake of recent bark beetle infestations.