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The Storage and Production of Organic Matter in Tropical Forests and Their Role in the Global Carbon Cycle

Sandra Brown and Ariel E. Lugo
Biotropica
Vol. 14, No. 3 (Sep., 1982), pp. 161-187
DOI: 10.2307/2388024
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2388024
Page Count: 27
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The Storage and Production of Organic Matter in Tropical Forests and Their Role in the Global Carbon Cycle
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Abstract

To investigate the storage relationships between and production of organic matter in tropical forests and climate, data on forest biomass, soil organic matter, litter storage, primary production, and litterfall were surveyed from the literature and organized using the Holdridge Life Zone system of classification. Ordinary least squares regressions were applied to all the data sets using the ratio of temperature to precipitation (T/P) as an index to climate and the independent variable. Total forest biomass (40-538 t/ha) gave a significant inverted U-shaped relationship with T/P, with peak values in the tropical moist forest life zone and lower ones in wetter and drier forest life zones. Soil carbon content (24-599 t C/ha) decreased exponentially and significantly with increasing T/P (i.e., from wet to dry forest life zones). No significant relationship was found between litter storage and T/P. Gross primary production (19-120 t/ha yr) decreased exponentially and significantly with increasing T/P. Neither net primary production (11-21 t/ha yr) nor wood production (1-11 t/ha yr) were related to T/P. The ratio of leaf litter production to net primary production (0.25-0.65) was inversely related to T/P, suggesting different strategies of allocation of the net primary production in different life zones. The relationship between total litterfall (1.0-15.3 t/ha yr, excluding large wood) and T/P was significant and its shape similar to that obtained for biomass versus T/P; litterfall was highest in tropical moist forest life zones and lower in wetter or drier ones. The linear relationship between biomass and litterfall suggested that the turnover time of biomass in mature tropical forests is similar for all life zones, and is of the order of 34 yr. To determine the role of tropical forests in the global carbon cycle, literature estimates of areas of tropical forests were placed into six life zone groupings. The total tropical and subtropical basal and altitudinal forest area of 1838 million ha was comprised of 42 percent dry forest, 33 percent moist forest, and 25 percent wet and rain forest life zone groups. Organic-matter storage data were also combined into the six life zone groups and the means for each group calculated. The product of forest areas in the six groups and the mean organic matter per unit area in the groups yielded a total storage of 787 billion t organic matter, with vegetation accounting for 58, soils 41, and litter 1 percent. About half of the total storage was located in the tropical basal wet, moist, and dry forest life zone groups. Litterfall data were treated in the same way as organic-matter storage, resulting in a total litter production in tropical forests of 12.3 billion t organic matter/yr. Most litter was produced in the tropical basal moist forest group (30%) and least in the tropical basal dry forest group (10%). Turnover time of litter in tropical forests was less than 1 yr. Lowest turnover times were in very wet (1 yr) and in dry (0.9-1.9 yr) life zone groups. Tropical forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle because they store 46 percent of the world's living terrestrial carbon pool and 11 percent of the world's soil carbon pool.

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