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Tropical Forest Growth

August 16, 2011 by staff 

Tropical Forest GrowthTropical Forest Growth, A new study shows that climate change increases the growth of trees in tropical forests; the resulting increase in litter could stimulate soil microorganisms leading to a release of stored carbon in the soil.

Scientists at the Centre led the research for Ecology and Hydrology & University of Cambridge, UK. The results are published online today (August 14, 2011) on Climate Change scientific journal Nature.

The researchers used the results of an experiment in six years in a tropical forest in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Central America, to study how the increase in litter – dead plants and leaves, bark and branches that fall to the ground – can affect carbon storage in soil. Their results show that the additional litter causes an effect called “priming” where carbon fresh plant litter provides much needed energy for microorganisms, which in turn stimulates the breakdown of stored carbon in the soil.

Lead author Dr Emma Sayer, the UK Center for Ecology & Hydrology said: “Most estimates of carbon sequestration capacity of tropical forests are based on measurements of tree growth. Our study demonstrates that interactions between plants and soil can have a huge impact on carbon cycling. Models of climate change must take account of this feedback to predict future atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. ”

The study concludes that a large proportion of carbon sequestered by increased growth of trees in tropical forests could disappear from the earth. Researchers estimate that a 30% increase in litter could release about 0.6 tons of carbon per hectare of lowland soils of tropical forests each year. This amount of carbon is higher than the estimates of climate-induced increase of carbon in forest biomass in the Amazon in recent decades. Given the vast surface area covered by tropical forests and the large amount of carbon stored in soil, this could affect the global carbon balance.

Tropical forests play an essential role in regulating the global carbon balance. Human activities have caused the carbon dioxide levels increase, but it was thought that the trees respond to this increasing growth and taking large amounts of carbon. However, enhanced tree growth leads to more dead plant material, garbage, especially the road, returning to the forest floor and it is unclear what effect the carbon cycle.

Dr. Sayer added: “The soils are believed to be a long-term storage for carbon, but we have shown that these stores could be reduced if high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen deposition driving the growth of plants.”

Co-author Dr. Edmund Tanner, University of Cambridge, said: “This priming effect in essence means that older adults, soil carbon is relatively stable, being replaced by fresh carbon from dead plant material, that breaks easily. I still do not know the consequences this will have on the carbon cycle in the long term. “

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