Research ArticleECOLOGY

Carbon neutral expansion of oil palm plantations in the Neotropics

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Science Advances  20 Nov 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 11, eaaw4418
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw4418

Abstract

Alternatives to ecologically devastating deforestation land use change trajectories are needed to reduce the carbon footprint of oil palm (OP) plantations in the tropics. Although various land use change options have been proposed, so far, there are no empirical data on their long-term ecosystem carbon pools effects. Our results demonstrate that pasture-to-OP conversion in savanna regions does not change ecosystem carbon storage, after 56 years in Colombia. Compared to rainforest conversion, this alternative land use change reduces net ecosystem carbon losses by 99.7 ± 9.6%. Soil organic carbon (SOC) decreased until 36 years after conversion, due to a fast decomposition of pasture-derived carbon, counterbalancing the carbon gains in OP biomass. The recovery of topsoil carbon content, suggests that SOC stocks might partly recover during a third plantation cycle. Hence, greater OP sustainability can be achieved if its expansion is oriented toward pasture land.

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