As one of Earth’s most carbon-dense regions, tropical forests are central to climate change mitigation efforts. Their unparalleled species richness also makes them vital for safeguarding biodiversity. However, because research has not been conducted at management-relevant scales and has often not accounted for forest disturbance, the biodiversity implications of carbon conservation strategies remain poorly understood. We investigated tropical carbon–biodiversity relationships and trade-offs along a forest-disturbance gradient, using detailed and extensive carbon and biodiversity datasets. Biodiversity was positively associated with carbon in secondary and highly disturbed primary forests. Positive carbon–biodiversity relationships dissipated at around 100 MgC ha–1, meaning that in less disturbed forests more carbon did not equal more biodiversity. Simulated carbon conservation schemes therefore failed to protect many species in the most species-rich forests. These biodiversity shortfalls were sensitive to opportunity costs and could be decreased for small carbon penalties. To ensure that the most ecologically valuable forests are protected, biodiversity needs to be incorporated into carbon conservation planning.

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We thank R. F. Braga, R. C. de Oliveira Jr, J. M. Silveira, F. Z. Vaz-de-Mello and R. C. S. Veiga for support with data collection, and R. A. Begotti, T. M. Cardoso, S. S. Nunes, J. V. Siqueira, C. M. Souza Jr and A. Venturieri for assistance processing the remotely sensed data. This work was supported by grants from Brazil (EMBRAPA SEG:; CNPq 574008/2008-0, 458022/2013-6, 400640/2012-0 and PELD 441659/2016-0; CAPES scholarships; FAPESP 2012/51872-5; and The Nature Conservancy Brasil), the UK (Darwin Initiative 17-023; NE/F01614X/1; NE/G000816/1; NE/F015356/2; NE/l018123/1; NE/K016431/1; NE/N01250X/1, NE/N01250X/1; and H2020-MSCA-RISE-2015 (Project 691053-ODYSSEA)) and Formas 2013-1571, and Australian Research Council grant DP120100797. J.F. and R.P. acknowledge CNPq productivity scholarships (process numbers, respectively: 307788/2017-2 and 308205/2014-6). Institutional support was provided by the Herbário IAN in Belém and LBA in Santarém. This is paper number 66 in the Sustainable Amazon Network series.

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Joice Ferreira, Gareth D. Lennox.

  2. These authors jointly supervised this work: Joice Ferreira, Toby A. Gardner, Jos Barlow.


  1. EMBRAPA Amazônia Oriental, Belém, Brazil

    • Joice Ferreira
  2. Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

    • Gareth D. Lennox
    • , Erika Berenguer
    •  & Jos Barlow
  3. Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Toby A. Gardner
  4. International Institute for Sustainability, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    • Toby A. Gardner
  5. Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • James R. Thomson
    •  & Ralph Mac Nally
  6. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • James R. Thomson
  7. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

    • Erika Berenguer
  8. Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK

    • Alexander C. Lees
  9. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

    • Alexander C. Lees
  10. Sunrise Ecological Research Institute, Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia

    • Ralph Mac Nally
  11. Tropical Ecosystems and Environmental Sciences Group, Remote Sensing Division, National Institute for Space Research, Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil

    • Luiz E. O. C. Aragão
  12. College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

    • Luiz E. O. C. Aragão
  13. Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Piracicaba, Brazil

    • Silvio F. B. Ferraz
  14. Setor de Ecologia e Conservação, Universidade Federal de Lavras, Lavras, Brazil

    • Julio Louzada
    • , Victor H. F. Oliveira
    •  & Jos Barlow
  15. MCTI/Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Belém, Brazil

    • Nárgila G. Moura
    • , Ima C. G. Vieira
    •  & Jos Barlow
  16. Instituto de Biociencias, Universidade de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

    • Renata Pardini
  17. Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Departamento de Biologia Geral, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

    • Ricardo R. C. Solar


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T.A.G., J.B. and J.F. designed the research, with input from E.B., A.C.L., S.F.B.F., J.L., V.H.F.O., R.R.C.S., I.C.G.V., L.E.O.C.A. and R.P. E.B., A.C.L., V.H.F.O., R.R.C.S., J.F., N.G.M. and J.L. collected the field data or analysed biological samples. S.F.B.F. and T.A.G. processed the remote sensing data. G.D.L. and J.R.T. analysed the data, with input from J.F., J.B., R.M.N., A.C.L. and T.A.G. G.D.L., J.F., J.B., T.A.G., A.C.L., R.M.N. and J.R.T. wrote the manuscript, with input from all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Joice Ferreira or Gareth D. Lennox.

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