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Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics

Nature Geoscience volume 4, pages 293297 (2011) | Download Citation


Mangrove forests occur along ocean coastlines throughout the tropics, and support numerous ecosystem services, including fisheries production and nutrient cycling. However, the areal extent of mangrove forests has declined by 30–50% over the past half century as a result of coastal development, aquaculture expansion and over-harvesting1,2,3,4. Carbon emissions resulting from mangrove loss are uncertain, owing in part to a lack of broad-scale data on the amount of carbon stored in these ecosystems, particularly below ground5. Here, we quantified whole-ecosystem carbon storage by measuring tree and dead wood biomass, soil carbon content, and soil depth in 25 mangrove forests across a broad area of the Indo-Pacific region—spanning 30° of latitude and 73° of longitude—where mangrove area and diversity are greatest4,6. These data indicate that mangroves are among the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics, containing on average 1,023 Mg carbon per hectare. Organic-rich soils ranged from 0.5 m to more than 3 m in depth and accounted for 49–98% of carbon storage in these systems. Combining our data with other published information, we estimate that mangrove deforestation generates emissions of 0.02–0.12 Pg carbon per year—as much as around 10% of emissions from deforestation globally, despite accounting for just 0.7% of tropical forest area6,7.

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We thank our many international partners and field personnel for assistance with logistics and data collection: Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority; Yap State Forestry; Orangutan Foundation International; Indonesian Directorate General for Forest Protection and Nature Conservation; University of Manado and Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia; Bangladesh Forest Department; and KPSKSA (Cilacap, Indonesia). We thank K. Gerow for statistical assistance, and R. Mackenzie, C. Kryss and J. Bonham for assistance compiling site data. Funding was provided by USDA Forest Service International Programs and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Author information


  1. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 60 Nowelo St., Hilo, Hawaii 96720, USA

    • Daniel C. Donato
  2. USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 271 Mast Rd., Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA

    • J. Boone Kauffman
  3. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), PO Box 0113 BOCBD, Bogor 16000, Indonesia

    • Daniel Murdiyarso
    •  & Sofyan Kurnianto
  4. USDA Forest Service, International Programs, 1099 14th street NW, Suite 5500W, Washington, District of Columbia 20005, USA

    • Melanie Stidham
  5. Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI), University of Helsinki, PO Box 27, FIN-00014, Finland

    • Markku Kanninen


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D.C.D. co-designed the study, collected field data, performed data analyses, and led the writing of the paper. J.B.K. conceived and co-designed the study, and contributed to data collection and writing. D.M. co-conceived the study, arranged for and contributed to data collection, and contributed to writing. S.K. contributed to data collection, data analysis, and writing. M.S. collected field data and contributed to writing. M.K. co-conceived the study and contributed to writing.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel C. Donato.

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