Australian forests best in the world at locking up carbon

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SYDNEY - A new study has found that mountain ash forests in Australia are the best in the world at locking up carbon.

According to a report by ABC News, the study has been carried out by environmental scientist Professor Brendan Mackey of the Australian National University and colleagues.

In the first study of its kind, Mackey and colleagues compared the amount of carbon per unit area locked up in 132 forests around the world.

Forests ranged from the Amazon in the tropics to temperate moist forests, such as stands of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in Victoria’s Central Highlands.

They calculated the total biomass locked up in living and dead plant material and the soil of each forest.

Mackey and colleagues found the highest amount of carbon was contained in a forest located in Victoria’s Central Highlands, which held 1900 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

This most “carbon-dense” forest was a stand of unlogged mountain ash over 100 years old. Mountain ash live for at least 350 years, according to Mackey.

Mackey said that similar but lower carbon densities were found for other temperate moist forests in New Zealand, Chile and the Pacific coast of North America.

“By comparison, the average tropical forest had somewhere between 200 and 500 tonnes of carbon per hectare,” said Mackey.

“The common understanding is that tropical forests store the most carbon because they’re the most biologically productive and have the most plant growth,” he said.

“But, researchers have missed the fact that nearly half of the carbon locked up in temperate forests like the mountain ash, is in fallen trees and other dead plant material,” he added.

In tropical forests, dead plant material is rapidly decomposed and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere through respiration.

By contrast, moist temperate forests are warm enough to encourage good growth rates, dead plant material decays much more slowly and carbon-rich dead biomass lasts much longer.

According to Mackey, the findings reinforce the role of forests in storing carbon and in mitigating climate change.

He said that the research especially underscores the importance of protecting carbon-dense forests in developed countries. (ANI)

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