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Cheap carbon and biodiversity co-benefits from forest regeneration in a hotspot of endemism

Abstract

Climate change and biodiversity loss can be addressed simultaneously by well-planned conservation policies, but this requires information on the alignment of co-benefits under different management actions1,2,3. One option is to allow forests to naturally regenerate on marginal agricultural land: a key question is whether this approach will deliver environmental co-benefits in an economically viable manner4,5,6,7. Here we report on a survey of carbon stocks, biodiversity and economic values from one of the world’s most endemic-rich and threatened ecosystems: the western Andes of Colombia. We show that naturally regenerating secondary forests accumulate significant carbon stocks within 30 years, and support biodiverse communities including many species at risk of extinction. Cattle farming, the principal land use in the region, provides minimal economic returns to local communities, making forest regeneration a viable option despite weak global carbon markets. Efforts to promote natural forest regeneration in the tropical Andes could therefore provide globally significant carbon and biodiversity co-benefits at minimal cost.

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Figure 1: Carbon accumulation and the cost of forest regeneration on cattle pasture in the Colombian Andes.
Figure 2: Biodiversity in cattle pastures and secondary forests of the Colombian Andes relative to primary forest.

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Acknowledgements

We thank F. Forero, J. S. Cardenas, A. Gonzalez and other staff at the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt for field support, and Fundación Colibri, Fundación ProAves and L. Tapasco for access permissions. We thank Y. Tapasco, O. Cortes, F. Prada, G. Suarez and many local guides for fieldwork. Funding was provided to T. Haugaasen and D. Edwards by the Research Council of Norway, grant number 208836. Specimens were deposited at the Instituto Alexander von Humboldt Collections, Colombia (Permit Number 1579). This is publication #2 of the Biodiversity, Agriculture and Conservation in Colombia (BACC) project.

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D.P.E., T.H. and J.J.G. conceived the study. D.P.E., J.J.G., F.A.E., P.W., C.W. and C.A.M.U. collected data. J.J.G. analysed the data and wrote the first draft. All authors contributed substantially to revisions.

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Correspondence to James J. Gilroy or David P. Edwards.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gilroy, J., Woodcock, P., Edwards, F. et al. Cheap carbon and biodiversity co-benefits from forest regeneration in a hotspot of endemism. Nature Clim Change 4, 503–507 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2200

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