TEMPERATURE INFLUENCES CARBON ACCUMULATION IN MOIST TROPICAL FORESTS

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: K. D. Wood

Abstract

Evergreen broad-leaved tropical forests can have high rates of productivity and large accumulations of carbon in plant biomass and soils. They can therefore play an important role in the global carbon cycle, influencing atmospheric CO2 concentrations if climate warms. We applied meta-analyses to published data to evaluate the apparent effects of temperature on carbon fluxes and storages in mature, moist tropical evergreen forest ecosystems. Among forests, litter production, tree growth, and belowground carbon allocation all increased significantly with site mean annual temperature (MAT); total net primary productivity (NPP) increased by an estimated 0.2–0.7 Mg C·ha−1·yr−1·°C−1. Temperature had no discernible effect on the turnover rate of aboveground forest biomass, which averaged 0.014 yr−1 among sites. Consistent with these findings, forest biomass increased with site MAT at a rate of 5–13 Mg C·ha−1·°C−1. Despite greater productivity in warmer forests, soil organic matter accumulations decreased with site MAT, with a slope of −8 Mg C·ha−1·°C−1, indicating that decomposition rates of soil organic matter increased with MAT faster than did rates of NPP. Turnover rates of surface litter also increased with temperature among forests. We found no detectable effect of temperature on total carbon storage among moist tropical evergreen forests, but rather a shift in ecosystem structure, from low-biomass forests with relatively large accumulations of detritus in cooler sites, to large-biomass forests with relatively smaller detrital stocks in warmer locations. These results imply that, in a warmer climate, conservation of forest biomass will be critical to the maintenance of carbon stocks in moist tropical forests.

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