A new study of re-growing tropical forests has concluded that plant biodiversity takes longer to recover than carbon storage following major disturbances such as clearance for farming.
The findings, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, have important implications for conservation since there are now many re-growing forests in South and Central America. The new study is the first large-scale analysis of the recovery of both plant biodiversity and carbon pools in re-growing forests.
Over half of all tropical forests have already been converted for agriculture, logged or burnt in the recent past. Re-growing forests could help both to soak up carbon emissions produced by human activities and to reduce species' extinctions.
The scientists, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Bournemouth University, concluded that although carbon recovered most quickly, even after 80 years re-growing forests tended to have less carbon than old-growth forests. This is probably because these forests are often dominated by small, fast growing trees. It may take centuries for larger trees which hold more carbon to become established.
In contrast, although the number of tree species recovered relatively rapidly, many species characteristic of old-growth forests were rare in re-growing forests. This is worrying because these species are probably those most vulnerable to extinction.