With the help of airborne lasers, researchers have discovered what a fragmented forest canopy means in the long-term for tropical trees.
From an article in Inverse.
Trees at the edges of forests store 22 PERCENT LESS CARBON than trees inside forests, and the effect extends more than 100 meters into the forest, finds a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Trees at the edge of a forest are less likely to grow tall, and more likely to die, so those forest fragments create big shifts in the tree canopy and overall structure. All of this, to use a non-technical phrase, throws out of whack the natural processes that produce a healthy forest, which in turn produces a healthy planet.
The research team used airborne light detection and ranging, known as LiDAR, and laser imaging spectroscopy to study these so-called “edge effects” of a fragmented forest canopy.
They focused on the places where lowland forests in Malaysian Borneo meet oil palm plantations.
Changes in the way trees take in light, grow, and produce leaves underlie the drop in carbon storage, the researchers found. Scanning the trees from above, the researchers found “significant reductions in canopy height and leaf mass per area.”
Researchers knew already that clear-cutting tropical rainforests has an immediate impact on the global environment, deleting animal habitat from the Earth and releasing tons of carbon dioxide. Clearing one hectare of rainforest, and replacing it with a palm oil plantation, emits 174 tons of carbon dioxide, found a study published in June 2019. As Inverse reported at the time, that’s the greenhouse gas equivalent of flying a jetliner from New York to Geneva.
The study makes a case for mitigating these declines in carbon storage, says lead author Elsa Ordway, an environmental researcher at Harvard University, in a statement.
That can be done through creating “buffer zones between intensively farmed areas and forest ecosystems,” Ordway said.
“Although our results indicate that some forests are more vulnerable to edge effects than others, such a strategy could be implemented at scale to reduce the negative impacts of land-clearing on remaining forests.”
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