Newly grown rainforests can absorb 11 times as much carbon from the atmosphere as old-growth forests, a study has shown.
The researchers have produced a map showing regions in Latin America where regrowing rainforests would deliver the greatest benefits. However, they added that old-growth forests still needed to be protected as they locked away vast amount of carbon.Details of the study have been published in the journal Nature. The international team of scientists compiled data from almost 1,500 plots at 45 sites across the Neotropics, which covers southern and central America, allowing them to produce map highlighting the carbon sequestration potential of areas across the Neotropics.
New-growth, or secondary, forests grow as a result of a major clearing of old-growth vegetation. The clearing could be the result of a natural event, such as a fire, or as a result of human activity, such as logging or farming. In order to maximise access to sunlight, nutrients and water, new trees grow quickly. This means the plants sequester a much greater amount of carbon from the atmosphere, which it uses as part of the photosynthesis process that uses sunlight to produce the sugars the plant needs to grow.
The team found that in optimum conditions, new-growth vegetation could sequester up to 11 times as much carbon as old-growth forests.However, the long established old-growth rainforests have locked away a vast quantity of carbon over the decades and centuries. Rainforests are the largest terrestrial carbon sinks on the planet. Deforestation is seen as one of the major drivers of emissions from human activities and is estimated to account for 20% of all emissions. The ability of forests across the globe, particularly rainforests, to absorb and lock away carbon plays a key role in efforts to mitigate and curb the impacts of climate change resulting from human activity.