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Nature. 2020 Mar;579(7797):80-87. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2035-0. Epub 2020 Mar 4.

Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests.

Hubau W1,2,3, Lewis SL4,5, Phillips OL4, Affum-Baffoe K6, Beeckman H7, Cuní-Sanchez A5,8, Daniels AK9, Ewango CEN10,11,12, Fauset S13, Mukinzi JM10,14,15, Sheil D16, Sonké B17, Sullivan MJP4,18, Sunderland TCH19,20, Taedoumg H17,21, Thomas SC22, White LJT23,24,25, Abernethy KA24,25, Adu-Bredu S26, Amani CA19,27, Baker TR4, Banin LF28, Baya F29,30, Begne SK4,17, Bennett AC4, Benedet F31,32, Bitariho R33, Bocko YE34, Boeckx P35, Boundja P19,36, Brienen RJW4, Brncic T36, Chezeaux E37, Chuyong GB38, Clark CJ39, Collins M40,41, Comiskey JA42,43, Coomes DA44, Dargie GC4, de Haulleville T7, Kamdem MND38, Doucet JL45, Esquivel-Muelbert A4,46, Feldpausch TR47, Fofanah A48, Foli EG26, Gilpin M4, Gloor E4, Gonmadje C49, Gourlet-Fleury S31,32, Hall JS50, Hamilton AC51, Harris DJ52, Hart TB53,54, Hockemba MBN36, Hladik A55, Ifo SA56, Jeffery KJ25, Jucker T57, Yakusu EK7,58,12, Kearsley E7,59, Kenfack D50,60, Koch A5,61, Leal ME62, Levesley A4, Lindsell JA63,64, Lisingo J65, Lopez-Gonzalez G4, Lovett JC4,66, Makana JR65, Malhi Y67, Marshall AR8,68,69, Martin J70, Martin EH60,71, Mbayu FM12, Medjibe VP39,72,73, Mihindou V23,73, Mitchard ETA40, Moore S67, Munishi PKT74, Bengone NN23, Ojo L75, Ondo FE73, Peh KS76,77, Pickavance GC4, Poulsen AD52, Poulsen JR39, Qie L4,78, Reitsma J79, Rovero F80,81, Swaine MD82, Talbot J4,83, Taplin J84, Taylor DM85, Thomas DW86, Toirambe B7,87, Mukendi JT7,12,88, Tuagben D9,89, Umunay PM90,91, van der Heijden GMF92, Verbeeck H59, Vleminckx J93,94, Willcock S95, Wöll H96, Woods JT97, Zemagho L17.

Author information

1
School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. whubau@gmail.com.
2
Service of Wood Biology, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. whubau@gmail.com.
3
Department of Environment, Laboratory of Wood Technology (Woodlab), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. whubau@gmail.com.
4
School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.
5
Department of Geography, University College London, London, UK.
6
Mensuration Unit, Forestry Commission of Ghana, Kumasi, Ghana.
7
Service of Wood Biology, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.
8
Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK.
9
Forestry Development Authority of the Government of Liberia (FDA), Monrovia, Liberia.
10
DR Congo Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
11
Centre de Formation et de Recherche en Conservation Forestière (CEFRECOF), Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
12
Faculté de Gestion de Ressources Naturelles Renouvelables, Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo.
13
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK.
14
Salonga National Park, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
15
World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland.
16
Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway.
17
Plant Systematic and Ecology Laboratory, Higher Teachers' Training College, University of Yaounde I, Yaounde, Cameroon.
18
Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK.
19
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia.
20
Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
21
Bioversity International, Yaounde, Cameroon.
22
Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
23
Ministry of Forests, Seas, Environment and Climate, Libreville, Gabon.
24
Institut de Recherche en Écologie Tropicale, Libreville, Gabon.
25
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK.
26
Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), Kumasi, Ghana.
27
Université Officielle de Bukavu, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
28
UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Penicuik, UK.
29
Ministère des Eaux, Forêts, Chasse et Pêche (MEFCP), Bangui, Central African Republic.
30
Institut Centrafricain de Recherche Agronomique (ICRA), Bangui, Central African Republic.
31
Forêts et Sociétés (F&S), Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Montpellier, France.
32
Forêts et Sociétés (F&S), Université de Montpellier, Montpellier, France.
33
The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC), Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Mbarara, Uganda.
34
Faculté des Sciences et Techniques, Laboratoire de Botanique et Écologie, Université Marien Ngouabi, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
35
Isotope Bioscience Laboratory-ISOFYS, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
36
Congo Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
37
Rougier-Gabon, Libreville, Gabon.
38
Faculty of Science, Department of Botany and Plant Physiology, University of Buea, Buea, Cameroon.
39
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
40
School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
41
Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London, UK.
42
Inventory and Monitoring Program, National Park Service, Fredericksburg, VA, USA.
43
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
44
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
45
TERRA, Forest is Life, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium.
46
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.
47
Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.
48
The Gola Rainforest National Park, Kenema, Sierra Leone.
49
National Herbarium, Yaounde, Cameroon.
50
Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA.
51
Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.
52
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
53
Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
54
Division of Vertebrate Zoology, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT, USA.
55
Département Hommes et Environnement, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturel, Paris, France.
56
École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Département des Sciences et Vie de la Terre, Laboratoire de Géomatique et d'Écologie Tropicale Appliquée, Université Marien Ngouabi, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
57
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
58
Department of Environment, Laboratory of Wood Technology (Woodlab), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
59
Department of Environment, Laboratory of Computational & Applied Vegetation Ecology (Cavelab), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
60
Tropical Ecology, Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, Arlington, VA, USA.
61
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
62
Uganda Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society, Kampala, Uganda.
63
A Rocha International, Cambridge, UK.
64
Centre for Conservation Science, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, UK.
65
Faculté des Sciences, Laboratoire d'Écologie et Aménagement Forestier, Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo.
66
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, UK.
67
Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
68
Tropical Forests and People Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia.
69
Flamingo Land Ltd, Kirby Misperton, UK.
70
Fleming College, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
71
Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre, Mang'ula, Tanzania.
72
Commission of Central African Forests (COMIFAC), Yaounde, Cameroon.
73
Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, Libreville, Gabon.
74
Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.
75
University of Abeokuta, Abeokuta, Nigeria.
76
School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.
77
Department of Zoology, Conservation Science Group, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
78
School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK.
79
Bureau Waardenburg, Culemborg, The Netherlands.
80
Department of Biology, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.
81
Tropical Biodiversity Section, MUSE-Museo delle Scienze, Trento, Italy.
82
Department of Plant & Soil Science, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
83
Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.
84
UK Research & Innovation, Innovate UK, London, UK.
85
Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.
86
Biology Department, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA, USA.
87
Ministère de l'Environnement et Développement Durable, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
88
Faculté des Sciences Appliquées, Université de Mbujimayi, Mbujimayi, Democratic Republic of Congo.
89
Friends of Ecosystem and the Environment, Monrovia, Liberia.
90
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
91
Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, NY, USA.
92
School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.
93
International Center for Tropical Botany, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA.
94
Faculté des Sciences, Service d'Évolution Biologique et Écologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium.
95
School of Natural Sciences, University of Bangor, Bangor, UK.
96
Independent Researcher, Bad Aussee, Austria.
97
W.R.T. College of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Liberia, Monrovia, Liberia.

Abstract

Structurally intact tropical forests sequestered about half of the global terrestrial carbon uptake over the 1990s and early 2000s, removing about 15 per cent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions1-3. Climate-driven vegetation models typically predict that this tropical forest 'carbon sink' will continue for decades4,5. Here we assess trends in the carbon sink using 244 structurally intact African tropical forests spanning 11 countries, compare them with 321 published plots from Amazonia and investigate the underlying drivers of the trends. The carbon sink in live aboveground biomass in intact African tropical forests has been stable for the three decades to 2015, at 0.66 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (95 per cent confidence interval 0.53-0.79), in contrast to the long-term decline in Amazonian forests6. Therefore the carbon sink responses of Earth's two largest expanses of tropical forest have diverged. The difference is largely driven by carbon losses from tree mortality, with no detectable multi-decadal trend in Africa and a long-term increase in Amazonia. Both continents show increasing tree growth, consistent with the expected net effect of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and air temperature7-9. Despite the past stability of the African carbon sink, our most intensively monitored plots suggest a post-2010 increase in carbon losses, delayed compared to Amazonia, indicating asynchronous carbon sink saturation on the two continents. A statistical model including carbon dioxide, temperature, drought and forest dynamics accounts for the observed trends and indicates a long-term future decline in the African sink, whereas the Amazonian sink continues to weaken rapidly. Overall, the uptake of carbon into Earth's intact tropical forests peaked in the 1990s. Given that the global terrestrial carbon sink is increasing in size, independent observations indicating greater recent carbon uptake into the Northern Hemisphere landmass10 reinforce our conclusion that the intact tropical forest carbon sink has already peaked. This saturation and ongoing decline of the tropical forest carbon sink has consequences for policies intended to stabilize Earth's climate.

PMID:
32132693
DOI:
10.1038/s41586-020-2035-0

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