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Nature. 2018 Jan 4;553(7686):73-76. doi: 10.1038/nature25138. Epub 2017 Dec 20.

Unexpectedly large impact of forest management and grazing on global vegetation biomass.

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Institute of Social Ecology Vienna, Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt-Vienna-Graz, Schottenfeldgasse 29, 1070 Vienna, Austria.
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Division of Conservation Biology, Vegetation Ecology and Landscape Ecology, University of Vienna, Rennweg 14, 1030 Vienna, Austria.
Max Planck Institut für Biogeochemie, Hans-Knöll-Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany.
CENSE, Departamento de Ciências e Engenharia do Ambiente, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, 2829-516 Caparica, Portugal.
Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany.
Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), Stockholm University, Svante Arrhenius väg 8, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden.
Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Ecological Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands.


Carbon stocks in vegetation have a key role in the climate system. However, the magnitude, patterns and uncertainties of carbon stocks and the effect of land use on the stocks remain poorly quantified. Here we show, using state-of-the-art datasets, that vegetation currently stores around 450 petagrams of carbon. In the hypothetical absence of land use, potential vegetation would store around 916 petagrams of carbon, under current climate conditions. This difference highlights the massive effect of land use on biomass stocks. Deforestation and other land-cover changes are responsible for 53-58% of the difference between current and potential biomass stocks. Land management effects (the biomass stock changes induced by land use within the same land cover) contribute 42-47%, but have been underestimated in the literature. Therefore, avoiding deforestation is necessary but not sufficient for mitigation of climate change. Our results imply that trade-offs exist between conserving carbon stocks on managed land and raising the contribution of biomass to raw material and energy supply for the mitigation of climate change. Efforts to raise biomass stocks are currently verifiable only in temperate forests, where their potential is limited. By contrast, large uncertainties hinder verification in the tropical forest, where the largest potential is located, pointing to challenges for the upcoming stocktaking exercises under the Paris agreement.

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