Soil carbon storage is related to tree functional composition in naturally regenerating tropical forests

Wallwork, Abby ORCID:; Banin, Lindsay F. ORCID:; Dent, Daisy H.; Skiba, Ute; Sayer, Emma. 2022 Soil carbon storage is related to tree functional composition in naturally regenerating tropical forests. Functional Ecology, 36 (12). 3175-3187.

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1. Regenerating tropical forests are increasingly important for their role in the global carbon cycle. Carbon stocks in above-ground biomass can recover to old-growth forest levels within 60–100 years. However, more than half of all carbon in tropical forests is stored below-ground, and our understanding of carbon storage in soils during tropical forest recovery is limited. 2. Importantly, soil carbon accumulation does not necessarily reflect patterns in above-ground biomass carbon accrual during secondary forest succession, and factors related to past land use, species composition and soil characteristics may influence soil carbon storage during forest regrowth. 3. Using tree census data and a measure of tree community shade tolerance (species-specific light response values), we assessed the relationship between soil organic carbon stocks and tree functional groups during secondary succession along a chronosequence of 40- to 120-year-old naturally regenerating secondary forest and old-growth tropical forest stands in Panama. 4. While previous studies found no evidence for increasing soil C storage with secondary forest age, we found a strong relationship between tree functional composition and soil carbon stocks at 0–10 cm depth, whereby carbon stocks increased with the relative influence of light-demanding tree species. Light demanding trees had higher leaf nitrogen but lower leaf density than shade-tolerant trees, suggesting that rapid decomposition of nutrient-rich plant material in forests with a higher proportion of light-demanding species results in greater accumulation of carbon in the surface layer of soils. 5. Synthesis. We propose that soil carbon storage in secondary tropical forests is more strongly linked to tree functional composition than forest age, and that the persistence of long-lived pioneer trees could enhance soil carbon storage as forests age. Considering shifts in tree functional groups could improve estimates of carbon sequestration potential for climate change mitigation by tropical forest regrowth.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Atmospheric Chemistry and Effects (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0269-8463
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: light-demanding tree species, litter quality, organic matter, secondary succession, shade tolerance, soil carbon storage, tree functional groups, tropical forest regrowth
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 31 Dec 2022 15:33 +0 (UTC)

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