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Improving the accuracy of carbon accounting in terrestrial ecosystems is critical for understanding carbon fluxes associated with land cover change, with significant implications for global carbon cycling and climate change. Semi‐arid ecosystems account for an estimated 45% of global terrestrial ecosystem area and are in many locations experiencing high degrees of degradation. However, aboveground carbon accounting has largely focused on tropical and forested ecosystems, while drylands have been relatively neglected. Here, we used a combination of field estimates, remotely sensed data, and existing land cover maps to create a spatially explicit estimate of aboveground carbon storage within the Great Basin, a semi‐arid region of the western United States encompassing 643,500 km2 of shrubland and woodland vegetation. We classified the region into seven distinct land cover categories: pinyon‐juniper woodland, sagebrush steppe, salt desert shrub, low sagebrush, forest, non‐forest, and other/excluded, each with an associated carbon estimate. Aboveground carbon estimates for pinyon‐juniper woodland were continuous values based on tree canopy cover. Carbon estimates for other land cover categories were based on a mean value for the land cover type. The Great Basin ecosystems contain an estimated 295.4 Tg in aboveground carbon, which is almost double the previous estimates that only accounted for forested ecosystems in the same area. Aboveground carbon was disproportionately stored in pinyon‐juniper woodland (43.7% carbon, 16.9% land area), while the shrubland systems accounted for roughly half of the total land area (49.1%) and one‐third of the total carbon. Our results emphasize the importance of distinguishing and accounting for the distinctive contributions of shrubland and woodland ecosystems when creating carbon storage estimates for dryland regions.






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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


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