In a recently published study, researchers found natural forests in China to exhibit greater carbon sequestration and lower water consumption compared to large scale planted forests (PF).
Planted forests have been given high priority in China for improving the environment and mitigating climate change relative to natural forest destruction. Through remote sensing and field inventory, the carbon sequestration and water consumption between the two types of forests are compared.
On average, natural forests consumed almost 7% less water but sequestered over 1% greater carbon than planted forests during a 12 year period. This may seem like a small number, but compared to the large scale of these forests, these numbers can be enormous. China plans to create forests roughly covering the size of Ireland, or 23% of its total landmass by end of the decade.
The distinct and larger shift of water yield identified in planted forests from the 1980s to the 2000s indicate that they are more sensitive to climate change when compared to natural forests.
The results of the researchers suggest that natural forests should be properly valued in terms of maximizing the benefits of carbon sequestration and water yield. The species diversity and communities of an old growth forest can not be simply replaced overnight by planting new forests.
Future forest plantation projects should be planned with caution, particularly in water limited regions where they might have less positive effect on carbon sequestration but lead to significant water reductions. These areas of China may begin to see water shortages leading to greater harm on the quality of life. China’s droughts are already predicted to soar as a result of a warming climate, and improper planning is likely to exacerbate the problem further.
[via Wiley Online Library]