Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 63–75 | Cite as

Seeing the forest not for the carbon: why concentrating on land-use-induced carbon stock changes of soils in Brazil can be climate-unfriendly

  • Jens Boy
  • Simone Strey
  • Regine Schönenberg
  • Robert Strey
  • Oscarlina Weber-Santos
  • Claas Nendel
  • Michael Klingler
  • Charlotte Schumann
  • Korbinian Hartberger
  • Georg Guggenberger
Original Article


Soil carbon stocks of 29 plots along a transect through tropical Brazil showed only minor soil carbon losses after land use shift, although replacement of forest-derived carbon was detectable in subsoil and topsoil, indicating that new equilibria in soil carbon stocks might not have been reached after deforestation. The proportion of carbon lost from soils was negligible as compared to the emissions from biomass reduction by deforestation itself. Industrial agriculture had the best ratio between food production and carbon loss, pointing toward a potential reduction of deforestation pressure by further agricultural intensification, which is not achieved in practice due to institutional obstacles and uneven benefit sharing. In contrast, farmers at the agricultural frontier were identified as change agents if alternative sustainable land uses, taking advantage of biodiversity-related ecosystem services, are fostered by better access to credit lines and extension management. Thus, constraining the climate change debate in agriculture to sole management of carbon stock changes in soil is misleading and draws the attention from the most urgent problems: deforestation caused by wrong incentives.


Soil carbon Alternative land uses Climate change mitigation Food production Brazil 



This study was carried out in the framework of the interdisciplinary project CarBioCial funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the FONA-line, under the grant number 01LL0902F. We want to thank the Brazilian counterpart project Carbioma (UFMT, UFPA-NAEA, Embrapa Arroz e Feijão) for collaboration, all involved farmers, stakeholders, and Brazilian scientific colleagues for their creative contributions, support and their patience during the sampling campaign. We express our gratitude to the Kayapó people that allowed us on their territory and accompanied our research activities with interest and understanding. Without the cooperation of their Institute Kabu, important data presented here could not have been collected. Our gratitude also belongs to the anonymous reviewers for their support to improve the manuscript, and Silke Bokeloh and Steffen Söffker for their valuable technical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Boy
    • 1
  • Simone Strey
    • 1
  • Regine Schönenberg
    • 2
  • Robert Strey
    • 1
  • Oscarlina Weber-Santos
    • 3
  • Claas Nendel
    • 4
  • Michael Klingler
    • 5
  • Charlotte Schumann
    • 2
  • Korbinian Hartberger
    • 2
  • Georg Guggenberger
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Soil ScienceLeibniz Universität HannoverHanoverGermany
  2. 2.Lateinamerika Institut (LAI)Freie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Departamento de Solos e Engenharia RuralUniversidade Federal do Mato Grosso – UFMT/FAMEVCuiabáBrazil
  4. 4.Institut für LandschaftssystemanalyseLeibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF)MünchebergGermany
  5. 5.Geographisches InstitutUniversität InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria

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