Secondary tropical forests sequester large amounts of carbon

Regrowing secondary tropical forests rapidly sequester carbon. An international team of forest researchers led by researchers from Wageningen University measured an eleven times higher carbon uptake compared with old-growth forests. In this week Nature they elaborate their findings.

Some of our ATDN colleagues contributed to this study.

Land-use change occurs nowhere more rapidly than in the tropics, where the imbalance between deforestation and forest regrowth has large consequences for the global carbon cycle. However, considerable uncertainty remains about the rate of biomass recovery in secondary forests, and how these rates are influenced by climate, landscape, and prior land use. Here we analyse aboveground biomass recovery during secondary succession in 45 forest sites and about 1,500 forest plots  covering the major environmental gradients in the Neotropics. The studied secondary forests are highly productive and resilient. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years was on average 122megagrams per hectare (Mgha−1), corresponding to a net carbon uptake of 3.05 MgCha−1 yr−1, 11 times the uptake rate of old-growth forests. Aboveground biomass stocks took a median time of 66 years to recover to 90% of old-growth values. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years varied 11.3-fold (from 20 to 225Mg ha−1) across sites, and this recovery increased with water availability (higher local rainfall and lower climatic water deficit). We present a biomass recovery map of Latin America, which illustrates geographical and climatic variation in carbon sequestration potential during forest regrowth. The map will support policies to minimize forest loss in areas where biomass resilience is naturally low (such as seasonally dry forest regions) and promote forest regeneration and restoration in humid tropical lowland areas with high biomass resilience

Nature online 3 February 2016, doi:10.1038/nature16512.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith