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Secondary Tropical Forests Store More Carbon Than Old-Growth Forests, Researchers Say

Feb 09, 2016 04:23 PM EST
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Climate change mitigation largely focuses on old-growth tropical forests, but a new study from the University of Minnesota, suggests that regenerated or secondary tropical forests may play a much larger role in storing carbon than previously thought. 

"Secondary forests are literally the forests of the future," Jennifer Powers, U of M ecologist, said in a news release. "Our study focuses much-needed attention on overlooked tropical secondary forests, which now comprise more than half of all tropical forests."

Secondary forests refer to those that re-grow after forests have been cleared or agricultural areas have been abandoned. In the latest study, researchers examined the recovery of biomass based on 1,500 forest plots and 45 sites across Latin America. Their findings suggest that after 20 years of re-growth, these forests have accumulated enough biomass to sequester 11 times more carbon than old-growth forests. However, high rainfall and water availability throughout the year largely impacts the resilience of second-growth forests. 

"We also used these data to produce a potential biomass recovery map for Latin America," co-author Danaë Rozendaal added in the university's release. "Regional and national policy makers can use this information to identify areas that should be conserved, for instance because they have a slow recovery and are more difficult to restore, or to identify areas with fast recovery, where forest regrowth or reforestation has a high chance of success and a high carbon sequestration potential."

"This study firmly establishes the potential role that tropical secondary forests play in the global carbon cycle, and underscores that policies aimed at mitigating climate change should both reduce deforestation and promote forest regrowth," Powers concluded. 

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature

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