Conversion of tropical evergreen forests to crops or pastures results in significant depletions of terrestrial carbon (C) pools. Root biomass and root C pools were quantified in tropical evergreen primary forest, and in secondary forests and pastures of different ages, in the Los Tuxtlas Region, Veracruz, Mexico. Total root biomass to 1-m depth ranged from 19 to 27 Mg ha-1 in primary forest, from 5.5 to 22.5 Mg ha-1 in secondary forests (8-, 20- and 30-y-old), and from 3.1 to 5.4 Mg ha-1 in pastures (12-, 20- and 28-y-old). Large roots (> 20 mm in diameter) were largely absent below 40 cm depth in secondary forests and pastures. Roots in the 0–40 cm soil depth represented 60–76% of the total root biomass in primary forest, 77–93% in secondary forests, and 89–96% in pastures. Root biomass comprised 4.7–6.2% of the total biomass in primary forests and between 6.8–8.5% in secondary forests. These low values, the relatively high concentration of roots in the top 40 cm of soil, and the shallow depth at which large roots occurred in secondary forests suggest forest susceptibility to natural disturbances. Root C pools ranged from 7.9 to 11.6 Mg ha-1 in primary forests, from 2.1 to 9.6 Mg ha-1 in secondary forests and from 1.0 to 1.9 Mg ha-1 in pastures. The estimated total ecosystem C pool in primary forest was 415 Mg ha-1, it ranged from 187-246 Mg ha-1 in secondary forests, and was 179 Mg ha-1 in pastures. Tropical forest conversion to pasture decreased the root C pool by nearly 80% and represented a 94% loss of C in ecosystem biomass. Absolute losses of root C were nevertheless small when compared with the above-ground C loss. Carbon distribution among ecosystem biomass components is key to adequately understanding the consequences of land-use/cover change on C dynamics in tropical regions.
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