Environmental Research Letters | VOL. 15

Greater stability of carbon capture in species-rich natural forests compared to species-poor plantations

Publication Date Feb 18, 2020


Tree plantations and forest restoration are leading strategies for enhancing terrestrial carbon (C) sequestration and mitigating climate change. While it is well established that species-rich natural forests offer superior C sequestering benefits relative to short-rotation commercial monoculture plantations, differences in rates of C capture and storage between longer-lived plantations (commercial or non-commercial) and natural forests remain unclear. Using a natural experiment in the Western Ghats of India, where late-20th century conservation laws prohibited timber extraction from monodominant plantations and natural forests within nature reserves, we assessed forests and plantations for aboveground C storage and the magnitude and temporal stability of rates of photosynthetic C capture (gross primary production). Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that species-rich forests show greater temporal stability of C capture, and are more resistant to drought, than monodominant plantations. Carbon stocks in monodominant teak (Tectona grandis) and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) plantations were 30 % – 50 % lower than in natural evergreen forests, but differed little from moist-deciduous forests. Plantations had 4 % – 9 % higher average C capture rates (estimated using the Enhanced Vegetation Index – EVI) than natural forests during wet seasons, but up to 29 % lower C capture during dry seasons across the 2000 – 18 period. In both seasons, the rate of C capture by plantations was less stable across years, and decreased more during...

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Natural Forests
Enhanced Vegetation Index EVI
Environmental Biology
New York
Columbia University

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