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Keywords:

  • soil carbon, plant carbon, land use, tropical forest, carbon accumulation, global change, carbon offset

Abstract

Approximately half of the tropical biome is in some stage of recovery from past human disturbance, most of which is in secondary forests growing on abandoned agricultural lands and pastures. Reforestation of these abandoned lands, both natural and managed, has been proposed as a means to help offset increasing carbon emissions to the atmosphere. In this paper we discuss the potential of these forests to serve as sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide in aboveground biomass and soils. A review of literature data shows that aboveground biomass increases at a rate of 6.2 Mg ha1 yr1 during the first 20 years of succession, and at a rate of 2.9 Mg ha1 yr1 over the first 80 years of regrowth. During the first 20 years of regrowth, forests in wet life zones have the fastest rate of aboveground carbon accumulation with reforestation, followed by dry and moist forests. Soil carbon accumulated at a rate of 0.41 Mg ha1yr1 over a 100-year period, and at faster rates during the first 20 years (1.30 Mg carbon ha1 yr1). Past land use affects the rate of both above- and belowground carbon sequestration. Forests growing on abandoned agricultural land accumulate biomass faster than other past land uses, while soil carbon accumulates faster on sites that were cleared but not developed, and on pasture sites. Our results indicate that tropical reforestation has the potential to serve as a carbon offset mechanism both above- and belowground for at least 40 to 80 years, and possibly much longer. More research is needed to determine the potential for longer-term carbon sequestration for mitigation of atmospheric CO2 emissions.