Articles | Volume 11, issue 10
Research article
23 May 2014
Research article |  | 23 May 2014

Tropical montane forests are a larger than expected global carbon store

D. V. Spracklen and R. Righelato

Abstract. Tropical montane forests (TMFs) are recognized for the provision of hydrological services and the protection of biodiversity, but their role in carbon storage is not well understood. We synthesized published observations (n = 94) of above-ground biomass (AGB) from forest inventory plots in TMFs (defined here as forests between 23.5° N and 23.5° S with elevations ≥ 1000 m a.s.l.). We found that mean (median) AGB in TMFs is 271 (254) t per hectare of land surface. We demonstrate that AGB declines moderately with both elevation and slope angle but that TMFs store substantial amounts of biomass, both at high elevations (up to 3500 m) and on steep slopes (slope angles of up to 40°). We combined remotely sensed data sets of forest cover with high resolution data of elevation to show that 75% of the global planimetric (horizontal) area of TMF are on steep slopes (slope angles greater than 27°). We used our remote sensed data sets to demonstrate that this prevalence of steep slopes results in the global land surface area of TMF (1.22 million km2) being 40% greater than the planimetric area that is the usual basis for reporting global land surface areas and remotely sensed data. Our study suggests that TMFs are likely to be a greater store of carbon than previously thought, highlighting the need for conservation of the remaining montane forests.

Final-revised paper