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African forests out of balance

Tropical forests hold more living biomass than any other terrestrial ecosystem. A new report in the journal Nature by Lewis et al. shows that not only do trees in intact African tropical forests hold a lot of carbon, they hold more carbon now than they did 40 years ago, a hopeful sign that tropical forests could help to mitigate global warming.

Growing trees absorb carbon. Dead, decomposing trees release carbon. Researchers expect growth and death to approximately balance each other out in mature, undisturbed forests, and thus for total tree carbon stocks, the carbon held by the trees, to remain approximately constant. Yet Lewis and colleagues discovered that on average each hectare (100 x 100 meters, or 2.2 acres) of apparently mature, undisturbed African forest was increasing in tree carbon stocks by an amount equal to the weight of a small car each year. Previous studies have shown that Amazonian forests also take up carbon, although at somewhat lower rates.

by S. C.
03 march 2009, World News > Africa