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Global patterns in wood carbon concentration across the world’s trees and forests


Wood carbon concentrations play a central role in forest carbon accounting, and are fundamentally linked to the growth strategies of woody plants. Yet there are no comprehensive assessments of wood carbon among trees globally, and coarse approximations of wood carbon (for example, 50%) are employed in virtually all benchmark models and assessments of forest carbon. We consolidated the largest database for any wood chemical trait—2,228 wood carbon observations from 636 species across all forested biomes—to derive robust wood carbon fractions for forest carbon accounting. Carbon fractions show substantial variation among forest biomes, and indicate errors in the existing forest carbon estimates of 4.8%, on average, and most extreme errors of 8.9% in tropical forests. The data also demonstrate that wood carbon concentrations show a phylogenetic signal and are co-evolved with, and negatively related to, wood density, thus representing a key plant trait that links plant functional biology to ecosystem processes worldwide.

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Fig. 1: Tree C concentration sampling sites.
Fig. 2: Variation in wood C concentrations across the entire wood C database.
Fig. 3: Relationships between wood C concentration and WD.
Fig. 4: Phylogenetic variation in wood C concentrations.

Data availability

The compiled data set used in our analyses is available through the TRY Functional Trait Database (data set ID number 433), and is available from the corresponding author upon request.


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The authors thank K. L. Smith for helpful comments that improved the manuscript. This research was supported by a graduate research bursary to D.M. provided by the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada. S. C. Thomas was supported by funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Author information




A.R.M. and S.C.T. conceived the study. A.R.M. led the manuscript preparation and final analyses. M.D. led the data compilation and preliminary data analysis. S.C.T. and M.D. helped write and edit the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adam R. Martin.

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Supplementary Figures 1–3 and Supplementary Tables 1–4.

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Martin, A.R., Doraisami, M. & Thomas, S.C. Global patterns in wood carbon concentration across the world’s trees and forests. Nature Geosci 11, 915–920 (2018).

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