Selected Case Studies from the Americas
Edited by Mohammed H.I. Dore and Rubén Guevara
Chapter 5: The carbon cycle and the value of forests as a carbon sink: a tropical case study
Octavio A. Ramirez1 INTRODUCTION Traditionally, forests have been perceived as a source of timber, wood and other extractive products such as medicinal and ornamental plants. In the past, the environmental services provided by forests have been neglected. This perspective has changed considerably due to international and local initiatives that view forests as ecosystems that render both productive and service functions. The latter include soil conservation/regeneration, water ﬂow regulation/storage/cycling, and recreational and biodiversity reserve services. Forest areas also play an important role in the biogeochemical cycles at the biosphere level, in particular the global carbon cycle (Dixon et al., 1994). This cycle affects the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), a key gas in the greenhouse effect. The growing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere contributes to global warming and, therefore, to climate change (Brown, 1996). Forests store large amounts of carbon in their vegetation and soil and constantly exchange it with the atmosphere through photosynthesis and respiration. Forests can be a net source of atmospheric carbon because of human intervention or natural causes such as ﬁres, logging, and the slash and burn practice used to clear land for agricultural production and cattle ranching. Net absorption of atmospheric CO2 takes place during the regrowth that occurs after an intervention. Trees and other plants capture CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, ﬁxing carbon in their biomass and releasing oxygen (O2). Forest ecosystems contain 20 to 100 times more carbon per unit area than agricultural ecosystems (Andrasko, 1990; Schroeder et al., 1993). When...
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