Replacing trees with bamboos halves the carbon storage capacity of forests

June 14, 2017, National University of Misiones
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Subtropical forests are among the most important ecosystems in terms of carbon sinks, fixing carbon from the atmosphere. Recent evidence indicates that after selective logging, bamboos replace trees in subtropical forests, which leads to decreased carbon storage. This decrease is far from trivial. The amount of carbon that a forest loses due to tree replacement by bamboos equals the amount of carbon liberated through clear cutting of the forest. Until now, the process responsible for this decline was unknown. Now, a new study reported in the journal Forest Ecology and Management sheds light on the mechanisms behind the loss in carbon fixation of subtropical forests.

The study found that bamboo domination affects the forest's function and carbon cycling by changing some characteristics of the litterfall. While the amount of total litterfall remained mostly unchanged from intact forest to degraded, bamboo-dominated forest, the quality of litter decreased as bamboo litter proportion increased. Bamboo litter has the lowest quality for decomposers and tends to accumulate above the ; as a result, the thickness of the litter layer doubled in bamboo-dominated forest patches. Forest degradation also caused a deceleration in litter decomposition, which resulted in a 50 percent decline in the amount of carbon that enters the soil community.

The analysis was conducted in the Atlantic Forest of South America, one of the world's most threatened biodiversity hotspots. The Atlantic Forest has been heavily impacted, and only 7 percent of its original area remains. It originally fringed the eastern coast of South America, from northeastern Brazil to eastern Paraguay and northeastern Argentina. The study, conducted in one of the largest intact fragments of the Atlantic Forest located in Argentina, compared sites with closed tree canopy with adjacent areas heavily dominated by bamboos.

At a time when the world seeks to curb carbon emissions, the results of the paper are relevant for the carbon budget. Dr. MarĂ­a Genoveva Gatti, biologist at the Institute of Subtropical Biology and one of the authors of the paper reflects on the significance of the study: "The soil contains more than the atmosphere and the vegetation; this is why we wanted to look at the effect of tree replacement on soil ."

She adds, "The replacement of by bamboos produces a cascade effect from the vegetation to the soil, implying that a disturbed forest is not delivering the same ecological service as a non-degraded forest."

Explore further: Clear-cutting destabilizes carbon in forest soils, study finds

More information: Zaninovich S.C, L.F. Montti, M.F. Alvarez, M.G. Gatti. 2017. Replacing trees by bamboos: Changes from canopy to soil organic carbon storage. Forest Ecology and Management 400: 208-217. DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2017.05.047

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Jayaraman
not rated yet Jun 15, 2017
Title used "Replacing trees with bamboos halves the carbon storage capacity of forests" is inappropriate. From the paper, I understood that it is basically a sucession of bamboo in selectively harvested forests rather than planting bamboo on those location. Sucession is a natural process - every ecosystem undergoes sucession. In this case, probably bamboo was indigenous and part of the ecosystem. Yes, due to the fast growing nature with the availability of favourable conditions in early succession phases, bamboo outperfoms other trees. It is important to note, there are more than 1600 species of bamboo-some of them are few inches tall others upto 30 meters, many species grows as understory, others as mixed forests, others in landscape scale too.Quantity of litter+decomposition rate varies across species, agro-climatic conditions do play a major role.Numerous publication exist in public domain to sustantiate bamboo forests contribute to increase in SoC comparable to sub tropical forest
CarloC
not rated yet Jul 09, 2017
Something is missing in the article:
"the amount of total litterfall remained mostly unchanged from intact forest to degraded, bamboo-dominated forest......Bamboo litter has the lowest quality for decomposers and tends to accumulate above the soil; as a result, the thickness of the litter layer doubled in bamboo-dominated forest patches". This conclusion asserts that the carbon contained in the litter of a bamboo-dominated forest patch is the double than that of the litter of the intact forest. Confirmed by the following statement "50 percent decline in the amount of carbon that enters the soil community."
It's said therefore that we have a component of the stock that doubled, but there is no mention of other component(s) where carbon decreased (the 50% decline is referred to the flux not to the content).

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