Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Deforestation in Sandy Ecosystems Increases Release of CO2

Climate

Deforestation may have far greater consequences for climate change in some soils than in others, according to new research led by Yale University scientists—a finding that could provide critical insights into which ecosystems must be managed with extra care because they are vulnerable to biodiversity loss and which ecosystems are more resilient to widespread tree removal.

This heat map shows the areas of the United States where the soil microbial biomass is susceptible to changes in vegetation cover. Graphic courtesy of Yale University

In a comprehensive analysis of soil collected from 11 distinct U.S. regions, from Hawaii to northern Alaska, researchers found that the extent to which deforestation disturbs underground microbial communities that regulate the loss of carbon into the atmosphere depends almost exclusively on the texture of the soil. The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“We were astonished that biodiversity changes were so strongly affected by soil texture and that it was such an overriding factor,” said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study. “Texture overrode the effects of all the other variables that we thought might be important, including temperature, moisture, nutrient concentrations and soil pH.”

The study is a collaboration among Yale researchers and colleagues at the University of Boulder, Colorado and the University of Kentucky.

A serious consequence of deforestation is extensive loss of carbon from the soil, a process regulated by subterranean microbial diversity. Drastic changes to the microbial community are expected to allow more carbon dioxide (CO2) to escape into the atmosphere, with the potential to exaggerate global warming.

Specifically, the researchers found that deforestation dramatically alters microbial communities in sandy soils, but has minimal effects in muddy, clay-like soils, even after extensive tree removal.

According to the researchers, particles in fine, clay-like soil seem to have a larger surface area to bind nutrients and water. This capacity might buffer soil microbes against the disturbance of forest removal, they said. In contrast, sandy soils have larger particles with less surface area, retaining fewer nutrients and less organic matter.

“If you disrupt the community in a sandy soil, all of the nutrients the microbes rely on for food are leached away: they’re lost into the atmosphere, lost into rivers, lost through rain,” Crowther said. “But in clay-like soil, you can cut down the forest and the nutrients remain trapped tightly in the muddy clay.”

The researchers also examined how the effects of deforestation on microbial biodiversity change over time. Contrary to their expectations, they found no correlation, even over the course of 200 years.

“The effects are consistent, no matter how long ago deforestation happened,” Crowther said. “In a clay soil, you cut down the forest and the nutrients are retained for long periods of time and the community doesn’t change. Whereas in a sandy soil, you cut down a forest and the community changes dramatically within only a couple of years.”

Using previously documented information about soil distribution, the researchers were able to map potential areas where below ground ecosystems are more likely to be vulnerable to deforestation. This has the potential to inform land management practices concerned with the conservation of biodiversity and the sequestration of carbon in the soil.

Co-authors of the study, Predicting the Responsiveness of Soil Biodiversity to Deforestation: A Cross-Biome Study, include Daniel S. Maynard, Emily E. Oldfield, and Mark A. Bradford of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

--------

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Earthworms Detoxify Pesticides From Soil at Significant Cost

5 Deforestation Hotspots Flying Under the Radar

Soil Microbes Alter DNA in Response to Climate Change 

--------

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

By Dave Cooke

So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.

Read More Show Less

By Richard Connor

A blood test that screens for more than 50 types of cancer could help doctors treat patients at an earlier stage than previously possible, a new study shows. The method was used to screen for more than 50 types of cancer — including particularly deadly variants such as pancreatic, ovarian, bowel and brain.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A woman scoops water in a dry riverbed near Kataboi village in remote Turkana in northern Kenya. Marisol Grandon / Department for International Development

By Raya A. Al-Masri

Different strategies for resisting the spread of the new coronavirus have emerged in different countries. But the one that has cut through everywhere is simple and, supposedly, can be done by anyone: "Wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds."

Read More Show Less
A USGS map showing the location of a 6.5 magnitude quake that shook Idaho Tuesday evening. USGS

Idaho residents were rattled Tuesday evening by the biggest earthquake to shake the state in almost 40 years.

Read More Show Less
A sign marks the ground covering TransCanada's Keystone I pipeline outside of Steele City, Nebraska on April 21, 2012. Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star via Getty Images

The company behind the controversial and long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline announced it would proceed with the project Tuesday, despite concerns about the climate impacts of the pipeline and the dangers of transporting construction crews during a pandemic.

Read More Show Less