Effects of Land-Use Change on Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations

Volume 101 of the series Ecological Studies pp 201-299

Trends in Carbon Content of Vegetation in South and Southeast Asia Associated with Changes in Land Use

  • Elizabeth P. FlintAffiliated withDepartments of History and Botany, Duke University
  • , John F. RichardsAffiliated withDepartment of History, Duke University

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The land-use data set of Richards and Flint described in Chapter 2 was used to derive a set of estimates of the total carbon content of live vegetation in 13 South and Southeast Asia nations in 1880, 1920, 1950, and 1980. A bookkeeping model was developed to produce estimates of the magnitude of the live-phytomass carbon pool for 93 discrete geographic units for those same dates. These data were then aggregated at the national and supranational levels to allow estimation of net changes in carbon stock of vegetation with time for those regions by simple subtraction.

The data reveal a dynamic picture of dramatic changes in land use and the carbon content of live vegetation between 1880 and 1980 in this tropical and subtropical region. Much vegetative cover was converted from categories of high biomass to categories of low biomass. Such conversions, particularly the replacement of forests and woodlands by agricultural land, have significantly contributed to a reduction by about half in the carbon content of live vegetation. Since 1880, recurring human exploitation of the land has depleted the vegetation within each land-use category, and intensifying human pressures have reduced the standing stock of live vegetation at an accelerating rate. Removal of forest biomass for subsistence needs by sedentary and swidden agriculturists, commercial timber extraction, and exploitation of fodder and other forest produce all contributed to this carbon loss. Changes in land use were responsible for 57% of the total reduction (an estimated 29 x 109 Mg), and degradation caused the remainder.