Tropical Trees 'Fix' Themselves After Being Logged or Cleared: Capturing Nitrogen

16 September 2013

Tropical forests may be making a comeback, and it could be their own doing. Scientists have discovered that trees "turn up" their ability to capture nitrogen from the air and release it into the soil as the forest makes a comeback after being logged or cleared for agriculture. The findings have huge implications for forest restoration projects and the ability to mitigate global warming.

In order to examine how trees and forests recover in the face of clearing activities, the researchers examined a square mile of the Panama Canal watershed. There, the scientists compared land-use options as they measured carbon storage, runoff and biodiversity. This allowed them to discover how mature tropical forests, native trees in forest restoration plots and abandoned pastureland compared.

"This is the first solid case showing how nitrogen fixation by tropical trees directly affects the rate of carbon recovery after agricultural fields are abandoned," said Jefferson Hall, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Trees turn nitrogen fixation on and off according to the need for nitrogen in the system."

Read more from Science World Report here.