Open Access Research

Total carbon accumulation in a tropical forest landscape

Carlos A Sierra12*, Jorge I del Valle3 and Hector I Restrepo3

Author Affiliations

1 Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Hans-Knöll-Str. 10, Jena, 07745, Germany

2 Research Center on Ecosystem and Global Change Carbono & Bosques, Medellín, Colombia

3 Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Medellín, Medellín, Colombia

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Carbon Balance and Management 2012, 7:12  doi:10.1186/1750-0680-7-12

Published: 19 December 2012



Regrowing tropical forests worldwide sequester important amounts of carbon and restore part of the C emissions emitted by deforestation. However, there are large uncertainties concerning the rates of carbon accumulation after the abandonment of agricultural and pasture land. We report here accumulation of total carbon stocks (TCS) in a chronosequence of secondary forests at a mid-elevation landscape (900-1200 m asl) in the Andean mountains of Colombia.


We found positive accumulation rates for all ecosystem pools except soil carbon, which showed no significant trend of recovery after 36 years of secondary succession. We used these data to develop a simple model to predict accumulation of TCS over time. This model performed remarkably well predicting TCS at other chronosequences in the Americas (Root Mean Square Error < 40 Mg C ha-1), which provided an opportunity to explore different assumptions in the calculation of large-scale carbon budgets. Simulations of TCS with our empirical model were used to test three assumptions often made in carbon budgets: 1) the use of carbon accumulation in tree aboveground biomass as a surrogate for accumulation of TCS, 2) the implicit consideration of carbon legacies from previous land-use, and 3) the omission of landscape age in calculating accumulation rates of TCS.


Our simulations showed that in many situations carbon can be released from regrowing secondary forests depending on the amount of carbon legacies and the average age of the landscape. In most cases, the rates used to predict carbon accumulation in the Americas were above the rates predicted in our simulations. These biome level rates seemed to be realistic only in landscapes not affected by carbon legacies from previous land-use and mean ages of around 10 years.