APR 05, 2017 6:55 AM PDT

Forest fragmentation responsible for one third of carbon emissions

UFZ researchers Prof. Andreas Huth and Dr. Rico Fischer led a new study in collaboration with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Maryland looking at the carbon output of forest fragmentation. Recently published in Nature Communications, the team found that fragmentation of formerly contiguous areas of forest raises carbon emissions by one third.

"We have known for a long time that not only the complete loss of rain forests can exacerbate climate change," explains Andreas Huth. Fragmenting a larger forest area into several smaller ones impacts the vegetation at the edges because trees are exposed to an unfavorable micro-climate. Trees on the edges (quantified as the outer 100 meters periphery) face more direct solar radiation, higher wind speeds and lower air humidities than trees on the interior of a forest. They also dry out more faster. "Large trees suffer most from this development because they are reliant on a good supply of water," explains Huth.

This correlates to a larger output of carbon dioxide, when compared to non-fragmented areas. Responsible for this are the micro-organisms that break down dead trees, which release large amounts of CO2. The other factor is a matter of absence; there are fewer living trees that remove CO2 from the air.

The study explains their methods and results succinctly: “Here we combine high-resolution (30 m) satellite maps of forest cover with estimates of the edge effect and show that 19% of the remaining area of tropical forests lies within 100 m of a forest edge. The tropics house around 50 million forest fragments and the length of the world’s tropical forest edges sums to nearly 50 million km. Edge effects in tropical forests have caused an additional 10.3 Gt (2.1–14.4 Gt) of carbon emissions, which translates into 0.34 Gt per year and represents 31% of the currently estimated annual carbon releases due to tropical deforestation. Fragmentation substantially augments carbon emissions from tropical forests and must be taken into account when analyzing the role of vegetation in the global carbon cycle.”

The team found that 19 percent of all the world's tropical forests are less than one hundred meters away from the edge of the forest, and humans are accountable for  84 percent of the total amount of tropical forest fragmentation.Clearing tropical forests gives rise to carbon emissions of around one gigatonne (1000 million tonnes) every year. Now we know that fragmentation of the remaining forests increases this amount by almost one third. Fragmentation also affects species biodiversity. 

The research team hopes that future climate talks will include their results in plans to curb carbon emissions. "This effect has not been taken into consideration at all in the IPCC reports to date," complains Huth. Not only must we focus on decreasing deforestation, but also fragmentation.

Sources: Nature, ScienceDaily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 09, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Upcycle Plastics to Fight Climate Change
OCT 09, 2022
Scientists Upcycle Plastics to Fight Climate Change
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers led by the University ...
OCT 17, 2022
Cannabis Sciences
Weed Breathalyzers Are Coming
OCT 17, 2022
Weed Breathalyzers Are Coming
Scientists have developed a prototype that can determine how much THC is in your system, and if you're too impaired to d ...
OCT 18, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Snatching CO2 From the Air
OCT 18, 2022
Snatching CO2 From the Air
In a recent study published in Nanoscale, a team of researchers led by the University of Pittsburgh have designed new ma ...
NOV 04, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Grad Student Highlights: Ian McDowell (University of Nevada, Reno)
NOV 04, 2022
Grad Student Highlights: Ian McDowell (University of Nevada, Reno)
This interview series is focused on the graduate student experience across all STEM fields that allows them to get their ...
NOV 16, 2022
Earth & The Environment
New Details About Earth's First Mass Extinction Unveiled by Geobiologists
NOV 16, 2022
New Details About Earth's First Mass Extinction Unveiled by Geobiologists
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers led by Virgini ...
NOV 24, 2022
Microbiology
The Germs in Hospitals are a Bigger Threat Than Those on Farms
NOV 24, 2022
The Germs in Hospitals are a Bigger Threat Than Those on Farms
Researchers sought to learn how dangerous drug-resistant Klebsiella, which can be found in many places, like farms, hosp ...
Loading Comments...