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Sci Adv. 2017 Aug 30;3(8):e1701284. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1701284. eCollection 2017 Aug.

The biodiversity cost of carbon sequestration in tropical savanna.

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Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7612, USA.
Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (UFU), Av. Pará 1720, Uberlândia, Minas Gerais 38405-320, Brazil.
Laboratório de Ecologia e Hidrologia Florestal, Floresta Estadual de Assis, Instituto Florestal, Assis, São Paulo 19802-970, Brazil.
Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP), Caixa Postal 6109, Campinas, São Paulo 13083-865, Brazil.
Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Campus de Jaboticabal, Jaboticabal, São Paulo 14884-900, Brazil.


Tropical savannas have been increasingly viewed as an opportunity for carbon sequestration through fire suppression and afforestation, but insufficient attention has been given to the consequences for biodiversity. To evaluate the biodiversity costs of increasing carbon sequestration, we quantified changes in ecosystem carbon stocks and the associated changes in communities of plants and ants resulting from fire suppression in savannas of the Brazilian Cerrado, a global biodiversity hotspot. Fire suppression resulted in increased carbon stocks of 1.2 Mg ha-1 year-1 since 1986 but was associated with acute species loss. In sites fully encroached by forest, plant species richness declined by 27%, and ant richness declined by 35%. Richness of savanna specialists, the species most at risk of local extinction due to forest encroachment, declined by 67% for plants and 86% for ants. This loss highlights the important role of fire in maintaining biodiversity in tropical savannas, a role that is not reflected in current policies of fire suppression throughout the Brazilian Cerrado. In tropical grasslands and savannas throughout the tropics, carbon mitigation programs that promote forest cover cannot be assumed to provide net benefits for conservation.

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