Nav: Home

Study reveals unusually high carbon stocks and tree diversity in Panama's Darien forest

July 18, 2019

Forests in Darien, an eastern province of Panama, are crucial for carbon storage, biodiversity conservation and the livelihoods of indigenous groups, yet they are under threat due to illegal logging. Through a participatory forest-carbon monitoring project, scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), McGill University and the National Research Council of Canada uncovered sources of above-ground biomass (AGB) variation and explored considerations for implementing Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) in Darien.

"Indigenous authorities were interested in quantifying forest-carbon stocks using field-based measurements to validate the REDD+ potential of their forests and engage in informed discussions with REDD+ proponents in the country," said Javier Mateo-Vega, former research fellow at STRI and main author of the study.

As part of the study, the scientists and a team of trained indigenous technicians analyzed 30 one-hectare plots distributed across a large, mature forest landscape, in undisturbed and disturbed areas. They found that Darien has the highest carbon stocks among nine mature forest sites across the Neotropics, and the second-highest tree species richness among five mature forest sites in the region, supporting the need to protect it in a culturally appropriate way with the region's indigenous peoples.

"I have been working in Darien since 1993 and also perceived these forests as exceptional. It was very exciting when we analyzed the results to see just 'how' exceptional they really are," said Catherine Potvin, research associate at STRI and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests at McGill University. "Hopefully our results will help give visibility to their global importance for carbon and for biodiversity."

They also discovered that, although half of the plots in the sample had experienced traditional indigenous extractive activities, satellite analyses of vegetation cover did not detect changes in canopy height or noticeable damage to the landscape like agriculture or cattle ranching would. In the field, however, disturbed plots harbored 54% less biomass than intact forests, so their AGB volumes differed vastly from those of undisturbed plots, but their structure and characteristics did not.

This led researchers to ascertain that the main determinant of AGB variation is the level of disturbance in the forest. That is, the amount of organic matter above the ground--in standing trees-- and the amount of carbon it stores, is mainly affected by the selective extraction of large trees rather than by differences across forest types or any other factors.

The study also revealed that even when disturbed forests lost half of their carbon as compared to undisturbed ones, they maintained the same tree species richness. In addition, disturbed forests still maintained a disproportionately high capacity to sequester carbon, suggesting that they should not necessarily be excluded from REDD+ investments given its interest in targeting areas where climate-change mitigation and biodiversity conservation can be achieved simultaneously.

"Decades of efforts to protect Darien's natural and cultural heritage through different protected areas' management categories and land-tenure regimes for indigenous peoples are being stripped away by rampant illegal logging," Mateo-Vega said. "Our study conclusively demonstrates how important these forests are for climate-change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and the well-being of indigenous peoples."
-end-
Members of the research team are affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Department of Biology at McGill University, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and the National Research Council of Canada's Flight Research Laboratory. Research was funded by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, McGill University's Department of Biology (NEO Program) and Dr. Catherine Potvin's Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical biodiversity and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Related Biodiversity Articles:

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.
Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.
Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.
Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.
Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.
Mapping global biodiversity change
A new study, published in Science, which focuses on mapping biodiversity change in marine and land ecosystems shows that loss of biodiversity is most prevalent in the tropic, with changes in marine ecosystems outpacing those on land.
What if we paid countries to protect biodiversity?
Researchers from Sweden, Germany, Brazil and the USA have developed a financial mechanism to support the protection of the world's natural heritage.
Grassland biodiversity is blowing in the wind
Temperate grasslands are the most endangered but least protected ecosystems on Earth.
The loss of biodiversity comes at a price
A University of Cordoba research team ran the numbers on the impact of forest fires on emblematic species using the fires in Spain's Doñana National Park and Segura mountains in 2017 as examples
More Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.