Carbon Sequestration and Plan Community Dynamics Following Reforestation of Tropical Pasture

Silver W.L., Kuppers L.M., Lugo A.E. et al. Carbon Sequestration and Plan Community Dynamics Following Reforestation of Tropical Pasture. Ecological Applications, Vol 14(4), 2004 pp 1115-1127.

Conversion of abandoned cattle pastures to secondary forests and plantations in the tropics has been proposed as a means to increase rates of carbon (C) sequestration from the atmosphere and enhance local biodiversity. We used a long-term tropical reforestation project (55–61 yr) to estimate rates of above- and belowground C sequestration and to investigate the impact of planted species on overall plant community structure. Thirteen tree species (nine native and four nonnative species) were planted as part of the reforestation effort in the mid to late 1930s. In 1992, there were 75 tree species (.9.1 cm dbh) in the forest. Overall, planted species accounted for 40% of the importance value of the forest; planted nonnative species contributed only 5% of the importance value. In the reforested ecosystem, the total soil C pool (0–60 cm depth) was larger than the aboveground C pool, and there was more soil C in the forest (102 6 10 Mg/ha [mean 6 1 SE]) than in an adjacent pasture of similar age (69 6 16 Mg/ha). Forest soil C (C3-C) increased at a rate of ;0.9 Mg·ha21·yr21, but residual pasture C (C4-C) was lost at a rate of 0.4 Mg·ha21·yr21, yielding a net gain of 33 Mg/ha as a result of 61 years of forest regrowth. Aboveground C accumulated at a rate of 1.4 6 0.05 Mg·ha21·yr21, to a total of 80 6 3 Mg/ha. A survey of 426 merchantable trees in 1959 and 1992 showed that they grew faster in the second 33 years of forest development than in the first 22 years, indicating that later stages of forest development can play an important role in C sequestration. Few indices of C cycling were correlated with plant community composition or structure. Our results indicate that significant soil C can accumulate with reforestation and that there are strong legacies of pasture use and reforestation in plant community structure and rates of plant C sequestration.

Chemical and mineral control of soil carbon turnover in abandoned tropical pastures

Marín-Spiotta, Erika; Swanston, Christopher W.; Torn, Margaret S.; Silver, Whendee L.; Burton, Sarah D. 2007. Chemical and mineral control of soil carbon turnover in abandoned tropical pastures.. Geoderma, doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2007.10.001.

We investigated changes in soil carbon (C) cycling with reforestation across a long-term, replicated chronosequence of tropical secondary forests regrowing on abandoned pastures. We applied CP MAS 13C NMR spectroscopy and radiocarbon modeling to soil density fractions from the top 10 cm to track changes in C chemistry and turnover during secondary forest establishment on former pastures. Our results showed that interaggregate, unattached, particulate organic C (free light fraction) and particulate C located inside soil aggregates (occluded light fraction) represent distinct soil C pools with different chemical composition and turnover rates. The signal intensity of the O-alkyl region, primarily representing carbohydrates, decreased, and alkyl C, attributed to recalcitrant waxy compounds and microbially resynthesized lipids, increased from plant litter to soil organic matter and with incorporation into soil aggregates. The alkyl/O-alkyl ratio, a common index of humification, was higher in the occluded than in the free light fraction. Greater variability in the chemical makeup of the occluded light fraction suggests that it represents material in varied stages of decomposition. Mean residence times (14C-based) of the free light fraction were significantly shorter (4±1 years) than for the heavy fraction. We report two scenarios for the occluded light fraction, one fast-cycling in which the occluded and free light fractions have similar turnover rates, and one slow-cycling, in which the occluded light fraction resembles the heavy fraction. Mean residence times of the occluded light fraction and heavy fraction in active pastures and 10-year old secondary forests in the earliest stage of succession were longer than in older secondary forests and primary forests. This is likely due to a preferential loss of physically unprotected C of more labile composition in the pastures and in the youngest successional forests, resulting in an increase in the dominance of slow-cycling C pools. Soil carbon turnover rates of the mineral-associated C in secondary forests recovering from abandoned pasture resembled those of primary forests in as little as 20 years of succession.


MARIN-SPIOTTA, E. ; OSTERTAG, R.; SILVER W. L. 2007. Long-term, patterns in tropical reforestation: plant community composition and aboveground biomass accumulation.. Ecological Applications, 17(3), :828-839.

Primary tropical forests are renowned for their high biodiversity and carbon storage, and considerable research has documented both species and carbon losses with deforestation and agricultural land uses. Economic drivers are now leading to the abandonment of agricultural lands, and the area in secondary forests is increasing. We know little about how long it takes for these ecosystems to achieve the structural and compositional characteristics of primary forests. In this study, we examine changes in plant species composition and aboveground biomass during eight decades of tropical secondary succession in Puerto Rico, and compare these patterns with primary forests. Using a well-replicated chronosequence approach, we sampled primary forests and secondary forests established 10, 20, 30, 60, and 80 years ago on abandoned pastures. Tree species composition in all secondary forests was different from that of primary forests and could be divided into early (10-, 20-, and 30-year) vs. late (60- and 80-year) successional phases. The highest rates of aboveground biomass accumulation occurred in the first 20 years, with rates of C sequestration peaking at 6.7 6 0.5 Mg Cha1yr1. Reforestation of pastures resulted in an accumulation of 125 Mg C/ha in aboveground standing live biomass over 80 years. The 80 year-old secondary forests had greater biomass than the primary forests, due to the replacement of woody species by palms in the primary forests. Our results show that these new ecosystems have different species composition, but similar species richness, and significant potential for carbon sequestration, compared to remnant primary forests.

Litterfall and Decomposition in Relation to Soil Carbon Pools Along a Secondary Forest Chronosequence in Puerto Rico

Ostertag, R.; Marín-Spiotta, E.; Silver, W.L.; Schulten, J. 2008. Litterfall and decomposition in relation to soil carbon pools along a secondary forest chronosequence in Puerto Rico. Ecosystems. 11:701-714.

Secondary forests are becoming increasingly widespread in the tropics, but our understanding of how secondary succession affects carbon (C) cycling and C sequestration in these ecosystems is limited. We used a well-replicated 80-year pasture to forest successional chronosequence and primary forest in Puerto Rico to explore the relationships among litterfall, litter quality, decomposition, and soil C pools. Litterfall rates recovered rapidly during early secondary succession and averaged 10.5 (± 0.1 SE) Mg/ha/y among all sites over a 2-year period. Although forest plant community composition and plant life form dominance changed during succession, litter chemistry as evaluated by sequential C fractions and by 13C-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy did not change significantly with forest age, nor did leaf decomposition rates. Root decomposition was slower than leaves and was fastest in the 60-year-old sites and slowest in the 10- and 30-year-old sites. Common litter and common site experiments suggested that site conditions were more important controls than litter quality in this chronosequence. Bulk soil C content was positively correlated with hydrophobic leaf compounds, suggesting that there is greater soil C accumulation if leaf litter contains more tannins and waxy compounds relative to more labile compounds. Our results suggest that most key C fluxes associated with litter production and decomposition re-establish rapidly—within a decade or two—during tropical secondary succession. Therefore, recovery of leaf litter C cycling processes after pasture use are faster than aboveground woody biomass and species accumulation, indicating that these young secondary forests have the potential to recover litter cycling functions and provide some of the same ecosystem services of primary forests.

Emergy Evaluation of Reforestation Alternative in Puerto Rico

Odum, H.T., Doherty, S.J., Scatena, F.N., Kharecha, P.A., 2000. Emergy
evaluation of reforestation alternatives in Puerto Rico. Forest Science
46 (4), 521–530.

Six alternative ways of reforesting degraded lands in Puerto Rico were evaluated using emergy (spelled with an “m”). Emergy and its economic equivalent, emdollars, put the contributions of environmental work and human services on a comparable basis. This article shows the emergy method for evaluating forest contributions to public benefit and its use to select alternatives for reforestation. Emdollar values were compared for six scenarios for reforestation of degraded land in Puerto Rico: (1) the natural succession within or adjacent to mature forest; (2) reforestation from the spread of the exotic tree siris (Albizia lebbek); (3) reforestation with plantations of siris and mahogany for harvest; (4) reforestation by leaving plantations unharvested; (5) direct planting of seedlings of many species; and (6) starting patches of forest by massive transfer of topsoil, seed bank, and roots. After energy systems diagrams were made for each reforestation alternative, data were assembled and evaluation tables prepared that estimated the emergy required for: (1) canopy closure and (2) developing species complexity if left unharvested. To explain the method, detailed calculations were included for one of the alternatives, exotic Albizia lebbek plantation on 11 yr harvest cycle. All alternatives generated net public benefit (emdollar yield ratios 4.2 to 24.3). The emdollar value of a closed canopy developed in 10 to 20 yr ranged from 20,000 to 48,000 em$ /ha, whereas the economic costs were $1200 to $9700. For complex forest development in 25 to 60 yr, values ranged from 63,000 to 118,000 em$ /ha, much higher than economic costs of $4000 to $12,000/ha. Highest public benefit per dollar cost came from succession (24.7 em$/$) and exotic colonization (19.1 em$/$). Highest potential monetary returns were from exotic spread (15.1 $/$) and plantations (17.9 and 14.5 $/$). Stand quality after 60 yr, as measured by the transformity (emergy/energy), was largest in mahogany plantation (6.4 × 10 4 sej/J) and succession forest (3.9 × 104 sej/J).
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