Economically important species dominate aboveground carbon storage in forests of southwestern Amazonia

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Tree species in tropical forests provide economically important goods and ecosystem services. In submontane forests of southwestern Amazonia, we investigated the degree to which tree species important for subsistence and trade contribute to aboveground carbon storage (AGC). We used 41 1-hectare plots to determine the species abundance, basal area, and AGC of stems > 10 cm diameter at breast height (dbh). Economically important taxa were classified using ethnobotanical studies and according to their stem density. These taxa (n = 263) accounted for 45% of total stems, 53% of total basal area, and 56% of total AGC, significantly more than taxa with minor or unknown uses (Welch test at p < 0.05). Taxa with 1-2 stems per hectare, or with fewer than 1 stem per hectare (common and rare) accounted for 35% of total AGC, more than the 22% accounted for by dominant taxa. High basal area had a greater impact on AGC than abundance in economic taxa because their populations are skewed to adult trees. Size in these taxa had a median dbh > 40 cm and few stems in regeneration classes of dbh < 10 to 20 cm (e.g., Bertholletia excelsa, Cariniana spp., Cedrelinga spp., Ceiba spp., Dipteryx spp.), whereas dominant Tetragastris spp., and Pseudolmedia spp. had most stems in low diameter classes and a median diameter of < 30 cm. Bertholletia excelsa, with 1.5 stems per hectare, showed the highest basal area of any species and accounted for 9% of AGC (11 Mg/ha), twice that of the second-ranking species. Our study shows that economic importance and carbon stocks in trees are closely linked in southwestern Amazonia. Unplanned harvests can disrupt synergistic dual roles altering carbon stocks temporally or permanently. Precautionary measures based on species ecology, demography, and regeneration traits should be at the forefront of REDD+ to reconcile maximum harvesting limits, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable forest management.
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DOI:
https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09297-220240
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