The necessary restoration of felled tropical forests

In large swaths of the tropics, from Southeast Asia to Africa, forests have been cleared in recent decades, but in at least some areas reforestation efforts are expected to be underway in the years to come. come to restore biodiversity and create new and powerful carbon sinks.

It remains to be seen, however, whether these newly planted forests will manage to survive a changing climate, which will bring more intense heat, prolonged droughts and occasional wildfires.

To find out, scientists from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong decided to run hundreds of computer simulations exploring various outcomes with variables such as different vegetation patterns and climate scenarios.

The main aim of the research was to see if the carbon stored in these regenerated forests would remain locked up in the vegetation, and the scientists found that this is likely to be the case even under the most severe climate scenarios.

Additionally, the researchers looked at scenarios in which only half of the available land is restored and sites are selected because of low land cost or high carbon storage potential, or both.

The importance of forest restoration

Finding out about this can be helpful, they say, because it will be important to restore forests based on certain priorities. For example, restoring forests in areas where the impacts of climate change will be less severe could help ensure the long-term viability of these forests.

What scientists have found is that regenerated forests should be able to survive until the end of the century and continue to store additional carbon from the atmosphere in the process.

“Our computer simulations show that in many parts of the tropics, including natural areas in Hong Kong and southern China, it is worth restoring degraded landscapes because these new forests will continue to store carbon until the end of the day. end of the century”, explains Jed Kaplan. . , an associate professor in the university’s Department of Earth Sciences and the Institute for Climate and Carbon Neutrality, author of a new study on the findings.

However, the role of newly planted forests as carbon sinks in the tropics will have only a limited effect in mitigating climate change, especially since many existing forests in the tropics will be struggling with the rising temperatures and are already losing their ability to generate carbon for storage. .

“Large-scale tree planting alone will not avert climate catastrophe, but it can play a role. And if done with biodiversity and the people who inhabit these forests in mind, forest restoration can have multiple benefits,” says Alexander Koch, who was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the university and the other author of the article.

“So far we have only been able to look at carbon, but other aspects, such as biodiversity in restored forests, are also affected by climate change. Assessing these impacts will be the next step,” he adds.

By Daniel T. Cross. Articles in English

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