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Trends and scenarios of the carbon budget in postagricultural Puerto Rico (1936–2060)

Authors

  • H. Ricardo Grau,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, PO Box 23360, Río Piedras, PR 00931-3360, Puerto Rico, USA,
    2. Laboratorio de Investigaciones Ecológicas de las Yungas, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, Casilla de Correo 34 (4107), Yerba Buena, Tucumán, Argentina,
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  • T. Mitchell Aide,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, PO Box 23360, Río Piedras, PR 00931-3360, Puerto Rico, USA,
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  • Jess K. Zimmerman,

    1. Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, PR 00936, Puerto Rico, USA
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  • John R. Thomlinson

    1. Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, PR 00936, Puerto Rico, USA
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H. Ricardo Grau, tel. +1 787 764 0000 ext 2580, fax +1 787 764 2610, e-mail: chilograu@yahoo.com.ar

Abstract

Contrary to the general trend in the tropics, Puerto Rico underwent a process of agriculture abandonment during the second half of the 20th century as a consequence of socioeconomic changes toward urbanization and industrialization. Using data on land-use change, biomass accumulation in secondary forests, and ratios between gross domestic product (GDP) and carbon emissions, we developed a model of the carbon budget for Puerto Rico between 1936 and 2060. As a consequence of land abandonment, forests have expanded rapidly since 1950, achieving the highest sequestration rates between 1980 and 1990. Regardless of future scenarios of demography and land use, sequestration rates will decrease in the future because biomass accumulation decreases with forest age and there is little agricultural land remaining to be abandoned. Due to high per-capita consumption and population density, carbon emissions of Puerto Rico have increased dramatically and exceeded carbon sequestration during the second half of the 20th century. Although Puerto Rico had the highest percent of reforestation for a tropical country, emissions during the period 1950–2000 were approximately 3.5 times higher than sequestration, and current annual emission is almost nine times the rate of sequestration. Additionally, while sequestration will decrease over the next six decades, current socioeconomic trends suggest increasing emissions unless there are significant changes in energy technology or consumption patterns. In conclusion, socioeconomic changes leading to urbanization and industrialization in tropical countries may promote high rates of carbon sequestration during the decades following land abandonment. Initial high rates of carbon sequestration can balance emissions of developing countries with low emission/GDP ratio. In Puerto Rico, the socioeconomic changes that promoted reforestation also promoted high-energy consumption, and resulted in a net increase in carbon emissions.

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