More than half of the world's aboveground carbon is stored in tropical forests, the degradation of which poses a direct threat to global climate regulation. Deforestation removes aboveground carbon in the form of trees, reducing the size of global carbon stocks in the process. Once forests are degraded, they are often perceived to have little ecological value, despite evidence of their ability to continue to provide important ecosystem services and to store significant amounts of carbon.
This misconception has marked degraded forests as prime candidates for full conversion to agricultural plantations, but recent research challenges this idea and offers a promising alternative — forest restoration is a more sustainable solution capable of both replenishing carbon storage and preserving biodiversity. While this concept isn't new, the adoption of restoration practices has been impeded by uncertainties over its effectiveness.
Now, an international team of scientists from 13 institutions, including researchers from the Arizona State University Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, has provided the first long-term comparison of aboveground carbon recovery rates between naturally regenerating and actively restored forests in Southeast Asia. The researchers found that restoration practices improved carbon storage recovery by more than 50% compared to natural regeneration. The paper was published Aug. 14 in Science.