Carbon stocks of mangroves and losses arising from their conversion to cattle pastures in the Pantanos de Centla, Mexico

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The conservation of mangroves and other coastal "blue carbon" ecosystems is receiving heightened attention because of recognition of their high ecosystem carbon stocks as well as vast areas undergoing land conversion. However, few studies have paired intact mangroves with degraded sites to determine carbon losses due to land conversion. To address this gap we quantified total ecosystem carbon stocks in mangroves and cattle pastures formed from mangroves in the large wetland complex of the Pantanos de Centla in SE Mexico. The mean total ecosystem carbon stocks of fringe and estuarine tall mangroves was 1358 Mg C/ha. In contrast the mean carbon stocks of cattle pastures was 458 Mg C/ha. Based upon a biomass equivalence of losses from the top 1 m of mangrove soils, the losses in carbon stocks from mangrove conversion are conservatively estimated at 1464 Mg CO2e/ha. These losses were 7-fold that of emissions from tropical dry forest to pasture conversion and 3-fold greater than emissions from Amazon forest to pasture conversion. However, we found that limiting ecosystem carbon stocks differences to the surface 1 m or even 2 m soil depth will miss losses that occurred from deeper horizons. Mangrove conversion to other land uses comes at a great cost in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as well losses of other important ecosystem services.

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