The Ecology of Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems
Manuel Lerdau, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA
The use of terrestrial ecosystems to sequester carbon has attracted much attention in recent years from scientists and policy-makers. I review the fundamental plant and soil science that underlie carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems and suggest that carbon allocation and growth by plants is even more important than carbon uptake in determining sequestration and that the maximum possible biomass pool regulates sequestration potential. The development of a stable pool of soil organic matter has the greatest potential to achieve carbon sequestration on the order of decades to centuries, but the limitations on flux rates, rather than pool size, constrain the potential utility of soil organic matter in carbon sequestration. By combining models with extant observational and experimental data sets, I demonstrate that certain ecosystems have much greater potential than others for carbon sequestration but that these systems are currently some of the most threatened by human activities. Furthermore, simple calculations also suggest that using carbon sequestration exchanges, e.g., purchasing carbon credits in remote locations in exchange for the right to emit carbon to the atmosphere in developed regions are of limited utility because of the inherent differences in pool sizes and flux rates. In summary, using terrestrial ecosystems for carbon sequestration may be a viable strategy in certain systems and on certain timescales, but basic biology and soil science suggest that it will not serve as an effective global strategy.
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