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Carbon cycling and species composition: seeing the forest for its trees

One of the most contentious debates during the recent climate talks in Hague centered on the possible use of forests as credit towards reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. A team of researchers supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) working on eucalyptus plantations in Hawaii has discovered an important aspect of how carbon processes work in tropical tree plantations. The researchers, who have published their findings in the December edition of Ecology, discovered that carbon cycling, or sequestration, was significantly boosted when the composition of tree stands included nitrogen-fixing trees.

"The results of this research illustrate the complex relationships between the carbon and nitrogen cycles of ecosystems and can be applied to the future management of both natural and planted forests," said Henry Gholz, director of NSF's long-term ecological research program.

The ramifications of the findings could have an impact on the way in which the carbon sequestering potential of tropical tree plantations is measured. The global coverage of tropical tree plantations has increased dramatically in the past two decades. In 1980 it was estimated that some 21 million hectares of tropical land were being used for tree plantations globally; by 1999 estimates stood at 60 million.

In addition, nitrogen deposition has become an increasing concern worldwide, and so information indicating that nitrogen deposition may aid in carbon sequestration may prove to be especially relevant to policymakers such as those who were in attendance at the recent Hague meetings.

Scientist Jason Kaye and his colleagues at Colorado State University researched carbon storage on a former sugar cane farm which had been turned into a plantation for eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus saligna) in Hawaii. The team discovered that the acres which were interplanted with Albizia trees (Albizia falcataria) were able to sequester more carbon than areas wher
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
18-Dec-2000


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