Study finds reforestation may lower the climate change mitigation potential of forests

May 28, 2010

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma and the Fudan University in Shanghai, China, have found that reforestation and afforestation -- the creation of new forests -- may lower the potential of forests for climate change lessening.

Yiqi Luo, professor of ecology in the OU College of Arts and Sciences Department of Botany and Microbiology, and Changzhang Liao, Bo Li and Changming Fang, professors of ecology in the Fudon University Department of Ecology and , examined whether plantations have the same ecosystem carbon stock as natural forests.

By synthesizing 86 experimental studies between plantations and their natural forest counterparts, Luo and colleagues found plantations substantially reduce carbon stock in ecosystems in comparison with natural forests.

"That decrease in ecosystem carbon stock should be accounted for, together with other forest products such as the harvested wood, when the total mitigation of reforestation is evaluated," said Luo.

This study challenges the idea that planting non-native or native-improved growth species on historical forest land yields greater carbon accumulations rates. They argue against the replacement of natural forests by reforestation, also known as plantations, to help stave off .

Plantations established on non-forested fields such as agricultural lands do help with the control of ; however, converting farmland to forests decreases the amount of carbon absorbed by the soil. Another form of gas, methane, also is affected by the conversion. Converted soil loses 80 percent of capability to degrade methane as compared to natural forests when it is developed as a plantation.

To minimize negative effects of plantation, appropriate management practices need to be adopted. Site preparation without burning, for example, leads to less loss than that with burning. To avoid ecosystem degradation associated with plantations, restoration measures need to be implemented to engineer ecosystems toward their natural potentials.

"The shifts from natural forests to plantations can also generate other ecological problems," writes Luo. "For example, soil bulk density, representing the degree of soil compaction, increases, possibly leading to limitation of rooting systems and destruction of soil structure in plantations. Additionally, plantations decrease stream flow.

"On the positive side, plantations can provide commodities for human needs (e.g., timbers). Therefore, we are now facing a great challenge of developing a management policy for plantation practice that minimizes their negative impacts on ecosystems but maximizes their commodity values."

Explore further: Halliburton pays $1.1 bn for Gulf of Mexico BP spill

More information: Findings from this research were recently published in the scientific journal PLoS One.

Provided by University of Oklahoma

2.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Forests' long-term potential for carbon offsetting

Apr 15, 2008

As well as cutting our fossil fuel emissions, planting new forests, or managing existing forests or agricultural land more effectively can capitalise on nature’s ability to act as a carbon sink. Research published online ...

Protecting natural forests crucial for climate change

Aug 06, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- South-east Australia’s natural forests are among the most carbon dense in the world and store three times more carbon than Australian and international climate change experts realise, a ...

Recommended for you

Halliburton pays $1.1 bn for Gulf of Mexico BP spill

6 hours ago

Oil services company Halliburton said Tuesday it would pay a $1.1 billion settlement over its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig blowout that led to the United States' most disastrous oil spill.

Underwater grass comeback bodes well for Chesapeake Bay

7 hours ago

The Susquehanna Flats, a large bed of underwater grasses near the mouth of the Susquehanna River, virtually disappeared from the upper Chesapeake Bay after Tropical Storm Agnes more than 40 years ago. However, ...

Clean air halves health costs in Chinese city

10 hours ago

Air pollution regulations over the last decade in Taiyuan, China, have substantially improved the health of people living there, accounting for a greater than 50% reduction in costs associated with loss of life and disability ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CarolinaScotsman
not rated yet May 29, 2010
So if we cut down a tree, we are harming the evironment and if we plant a tree, we are harming the environment. Sounds like a catch 22 to me.