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

Lan Qie, Simon L Lewis, Martin J P Sullivan, Gabriela Lopez-Gonzalez, Georgia C Pickavance, Terry Sunderland, Peter Ashton, Wannes Hubau, Kamariah Abu Salim, Shin-Ichiro Aiba, Lindsay F Banin, Nicholas Berry, Francis Q Brearley, David F R P Burslem, Martin Dančák, Stuart J Davies, Gabriella Fredriksson, Keith C Hamer, Radim Hédl, Lip Khoon KhoKanehiro Kitayama, Haruni Krisnawati, Stanislav Lhota, Yadvinder Malhi, Colin Maycock, Faizah Metali, Edi Mirmanto, Laszlo Nagy, Reuben Nilus, Robert Ong, Colin A Pendry, Axel Dalberg Poulsen, Richard B Primack, Ervan Rutishauser, Ismayadi Samsoedin, Bernaulus Saragih, Plinio Sist, J W Ferry Slik, Rahayu Sukmaria Sukri, Martin Svátek, Sylvester Tan, Aiyen Tjoa, Mark van Nieuwstadt, Ronald R E Vernimmen, Ishak Yassir, Petra Susan Kidd, Muhammad Fitriadi, Nur Khalish Hafizhah Ideris, Rafizah Mat Serudin, Layla Syaznie Abdullah Lim, Muhammad Shahruney Saparudin, Oliver L Phillips

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    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) above-ground live biomass. 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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1966
    Number of pages11
    JournalNature Communications
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2017

    Bibliographical note

    This paper is a product of the T-FORCES forest monitoring network (Tropical Forests in the Changing Earth System), supported by an ERC Advanced Grant to O.L.P. and by many institutions, NGOs, government agencies and local communities in Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. We are grateful for historical plot data contributed by the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS; two LAM plots and one BEL plot), the Global Ecosystem Monitoring network (GEM; two LAM plots), Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (Brunei plots), Kagoshima University (KIS and KIU plots), Forest Department Sarawak (BKO, LAM, MER and GMU plots), Forest Research Centre, Sabah Forestry Department (SEP plots), the Tropenbos Kalimantan project (ITCI plots), Project Barito Ulu, supported by Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) (BUL plots), and the STREK project, supported by CIRAD, The Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia, and INHUTANI I (STR plots). We are indebted to a great many individuals who contributed to historical data collection. Contemporary fieldwork was supported by a grant from the ERC (T-FORCES) and from NERC (grants NER/A/S/2000/00532, NE/B503384/1, NE/N012542/1). L.Q. was supported by T-FORCES, CIFOR and NERC NE/P00363X/1. S.L.L. was supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, T-FORCES and a Phillip Leverhulme Prize. O.L.P. is supported by T-FORCES and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. M.J.P.S. is supported by T-FORCES and NERC NE/N012542/1. L.F.B. was supported by a NERC studentship to the University of Leeds and a RGS-IBG Henrietta Hutton grant. R.H. was supported by a University of Brunei Darussalam Research Fellowship (2011) and a long-term research project RVO 67985939 from the Czech Academy of Sciences. S.L. received additional support from Primate Conservation Inc. M.S. was supported by a Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports grant of the Czech Republic INGO II LG15051. R.R.E.V. was supported by the Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research (WOTRO, grant No. W76-217). We thank Forest Department Sarawak, Sabah Biodiversity Centre, Sabah Forestry Department, Forest Department Brunei, Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research, University of Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education for research permissions. We thank Bako National Park, Lambir Hills National Park, Gunung Mulu National Park, Kuala Belalong Field Study Centre (KBFSC), Glen Reynolds (SEARRP), Danum Valley Conservation Area, Rainforest Discovery Centre Sepilok, Sepilok Laut Reception Centre, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), Sungai Wain Protection Forest Management Unit, WWF East Kalimantan and PT. ITCIKU East Kalimantan for logistical support for fieldwork. We thank Timothy Baker, Roel Brienen, Emanuel Gloor, Adriane Esquivel Muelbert and Nicolas Labrière for comments on the manuscript. We thank our deceased colleagues, John Proctor and Suriantata, for their invaluable contributions to both historical work and our wider understanding of tropical forest ecology.


    • climate-change ecology
    • climate-change impacts
    • forest ecology


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