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Dissecting biomass dynamics in a large Amazonian forest plot

  • Renato Valencia (a1), Richard Condit (a2), Helene C. Muller-Landau (a3), Consuelo Hernandez (a1) and Hugo Navarrete (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2009

Above-ground biomass (AGB) is increasing in most of the Amazon forests. One hypothesis is that forests are responding to widespread and intense human intervention prior to the European conquest (>500 y ago). In this study we confront this hypothesis with changes in AGB over 6.3 y in a large western Amazonian forest plot (>150 000 shrubs and trees and 1100 species with dbh ≥ 10 mm in 25 ha). We examined AGB flux in different habitats and across diameter classes. The forest lost small stems (4.6%), gained large trees (2.6%), and gained biomass (0.7%). The change in AGB stock was due entirely to this upward shift in size leading to more canopy trees and fewer saplings after just 6 y. Across habitats, the biggest increment in biomass was in the secondary-forest patch (3.4% y−1) which we know was cleared about 27 y ago, whereas mature forest on ridges and valleys had small increases (0.10% and 0.09% y−1, respectively). In both censuses, AGB stocks were >50% higher on the ridge than in the valley while relative growth and mortality were higher in the valley. Mean wood specific gravity (WSG) decreased with increasing diameter class; WSG did not change much between censuses in mature forests and did not contribute to the change in AGB stocks. Our forest increased its standing biomass, but far less than the average reported for other Amazonian forests (i.e. 0.30 vs. 0.98 Mg ha−1 y−1). We find no evidence to support the notion that this forest is recovering from long-past human intervention. Instead of a long-term recovery, we believe the forest changed in response to natural fluctuations of the environment (e.g. changes in precipitation, higher CO2), windstorms or other more recent events. The significant differences in AGB stocks between valley and ridge suggest that the terra firme forests are a mosaic of natural habitats, and that this mosaic is in part responsible for the variation in biomass stocks detected in Amazonian terra firme forests.

Resumen: La biomasa aérea de la mayoría de los bosques amazónicos está incrementando. Una hipótesis es que los bosques están respondiendo a un disturbio humano intenso y ampliamente distribuido, anterior a la llegada de los conquistadores europeos (>500 años atrás). En este estudio se confronta esta hipótesis con los cambios en biomasa encontrados en 6.3 años en una parcela de gran escala de la Amazonia occidental (>150.000 arbustos y árboles con diámetro a la altura del pecho ≥10 mm y 1100 especies en 25 ha). Los resultados se examinan por categorías de diámetro y hábitat. En este período el bosque perdió tallos pequeños (4.6%), ganó árboles grandes (2.6%) y ganó biomasa (0.7%). La ganancia en biomasa fue debida enteramente al incremento de árboles de gran tamaño que significó más árboles de dosel y menos juveniles en apenas 6 años. Entre los hábitats, el mayor incremento en biomasa se encontró en un parche de bosque secundario de colina (3.4%/año), cuya edad es de 27 años, mientras el bosque maduro de las colinas y los valles incrementó escasamente (0.10% y 0.09%/año, respectivamente). Tanto al inicio como al final del estudio, el stock de biomasa fue >50% más grande en la colina que en el valle mientras que el crecimiento y la mortalidad relativa fueron mayores en el valle. La media de la gravedad específica de la madera (GEM) fue menor a mayor clase diamétrica; en el bosque maduro, el cambio en la GEM fue insignificante y no contribuyó al aumento en stocks de biomasa. El bosque incrementó la biomasa aérea pero mucho menos que el promedio reportado para otros bosques amazónicos (i.e. 0.30 vs. 0.98 Mg ha−1/año). No se encontró evidencia que apoye la noción de que el bosque se está recuperando de un disturbio de gran escala ocurrido en el pasado. En su lugar, se cree que el bosque cambió en respuesta a fluctuaciones naturales del ambiente (e.g. cambios en precipitación, mayor concentración de CO2), vendavales u otro tipo de eventos más recientes. La diferencia significativa en los stocks de biomasa encontrada entre el valle y la colina sugiere que la tierra firme es un mosaico de hábitats naturales y que este mosaico podría explicar en parte la variación encontrada en los stocks de biomasa de bosques amazónicos de tierra firme.

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