Implications of fires on carbon budgets in Andean cloud montane forest: the importance of peat soils and tree resprouting
Fire in tropical montane cloud forests (TMCFs) is not as rare as once believed. Andean TMCFs sit immediately below highly flammable, high-altitude grasslands (Puna/Páramo) that suffer from recurrent anthropogenic fire. This treeline is a zone of climatic tension where substantial future warming is likely to force upward tree migrations, while increased fire presence and fire impacts are likely to force it downwards. TMCFs contain large carbon stocks in their peat soils and their loss through fire is a currently unaccounted for regional source of CO2. This study, conducted in the southern Peruvian Andes (>2800 m), documents differences in live tree biomass, fine root biomass, fallen and standing dead wood, and soil organic carbon in 4 paired-sample plots (burned versus control) following the severe ground fires that occurred during the 2005 Andean drought. Peat soils contributed the most to biomass burning emissions, with lower values corresponding to an 89% mean stock difference compared to the controls (mean±SE) (54.1±22.3 vs. 5.8±5.3MgCha-1). Contrastingly, carbon stocks from live standing trees differed by a non-significant 37% lower value in the burned plots compared to the controls, largely compensated by vigorous resprouting (45.5±17.4 vs. 69.2±13.4MgCha-1). Both standing dead trees and fallen dead wood were significantly higher in the burned plots with a three-fold difference from the controls: dead Trees 45.2±9.4 vs. 16.4±4.4 MgCha-1, and ca. a 2 fold difference for the fallen dead wood: 11.2±5 vs. 6.7±3.2 MgCha-1 for the burned plots versus their controls. A preliminary estimate of the regional contribution of biomass burning emissions from Andean TMCFs for the period 20002008, resulted in mean carbon emission rates of 1.3 TgC yr-1 (max-min: 1.80.8 TgC yr-1). This value is in the same order of magnitude than South American annual fire emissions (300 TgC yr-1) suggesting the need for further research on Andean forest fires. On-going projects on the region are working on the promotion of landowner participation in TMCFs conservation through REDD+ mechanism. The heart of the proposed initiative is reforestation of degraded lands with green fire breaks enriched with economically valuable Andean plant species. The cultivation of these species may contribute to reduce deforestation pressure on the Amazonian cloud forest by providing an alternative income to local communities, at the same time that they prevent the spread of fire into Manu National Park and adjacent community-held forests, protecting forest and reducing CO2 emissions.