Long-term carbon sink in Borneo’s forests halted by drought and vulnerable to edge effects

Long-term carbon sink in Borneo’s forests halted by drought and vulnerable to edge effects

Less than half of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere. While carbon balance models imply large carbon uptake in tropical forests, direct on-the-ground observations are still lacking in Southeast Asia. Here, using long-term plot monitoring records of up to half a century, we find that intact forests in Borneo gained 0.43 Mg C ha-1 per year (95% CI 0.14-0.72, mean period 1988-2010) in above-ground live biomass carbon. These results closely match those from African and Amazonian plot networks, suggesting that the world’s remaining intact tropical forests are now en masse out-of-equilibrium. Although both pan-tropical and long-term, the sink in remaining intact forests appears vulnerable to climate and land use changes. Across Borneo the 1997-1998 El Niño drought temporarily halted the carbon sink by increasing tree mortality, while fragmentation persistently offset the sink and turned many edge-affected forests into a carbon source to the atmosphere.

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