Plantation Forests Increase Carbon Storage on Hainan Island, Southern China

by Stephen Johnson

Forested landscapes in the tropics are often highly dynamic, with natural forest being replaced by a shifting mosaic of plantations, agriculture, pasture, and settlements, which are in turn occasionally replaced by ecological restoration. This produces landscapes that vary in their capacity to sequester and store carbon. In South East Asia, as in many parts of the tropics, natural forests are commonly converted to plantations of rubber, Eucalyptus, pine, and hardwood for timber. The carbon storage capacity of a forest depends on the species of trees, which vary in density and size. Consequently, the type of forest, artificial and natural, determines the carbon storage capacity of a landscape. On Hainan Island in Southern China, land cover has been continuously altered over the past century, with artificial plantation forests replacing natural rain forest. Ren et al. (2014) analyzed how carbon storage capacity differs between land use types and how the total quantity of stored carbon has changed through time. Using both remote sensing and forest inventory plots, they quantified the carbon stored in woody vegetation, understory, herbs, leaf litter, and soil in each type of land use. They found that carbon storage capacity is highest in natural forests, and while these forests have been reduced over the years, the proliferation of plantation forests has actually increased the total carbon storage of the island. Furthermore, they found that 75% of the forest’s carbon was stored in soil rather than woody biomass, emphasizing the importance of maintaining soil communities. Continue reading