Estimating Changes in the Carbon Content of Terrestrial Ecosystems from Historical Data

  • Richard A. Houghton


When forests are cleared for agricultural crops, the carbon stored originally in trees is oxidized and released to the atmosphere, either rapidly if the trees are burned or slowly if they are left on the ground to decay. Similarly, the organic matter of soil is reduced through cultivation. Such reductions in the carbon stocks of terrestrial systems occur with the harvest of forests for wood and with the clearing of forests for cropland, pasture, or other uses. On the other hand, the regrowth of forests following harvest, the abandonment of agriculture, or the establishment of plantations increases the storage of carbon on land, both in vegetation and in soils. The balance between the clearing and regrowth of forests is the major factor in determining changes in the net storage of carbon in terrestrial systems. Non-forested systems can also lose or accumulate carbon, such as when grasslands are converted to agriculture; however, the changes in carbon per unit area are much smaller than for forests.


Tropical Forest Agricultural Area Carbon Stock Secondary Forest Tree Ring 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnold, J. E. M. and J. Jongma. 1978. Fuelwood and charcoal in developing countries. Unasylva 29: 2–9.Google Scholar
  2. Brown, S. and A. E. Lugo. 1982. The storage and production of organic matter in tropical forests and their role in the global carbon cycle. Biotropica 14: 161187.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, S. and A. E. Lugo. 1984. Biomass of tropical forests: a new estimate based on volumes. Science 223: 1290–1293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Emanuel, W. R., G. G. Killough, W. M. Post, and H. H. Shugart. 1984. Modeling terrestrial ecosystems in the global carbon cycle with shifts in carbon storage capacity by land-use change. Ecology 65: 970–983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1946–1979. Yearbook of Forest Products. FAO, Rome.Google Scholar
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1949–1978. Production Yearbooks. FAO, Rome.Google Scholar
  7. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1983. Production Yearbook. FAO, Rome.Google Scholar
  8. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1981. Production Yearbook. FAO, Rome.Google Scholar
  9. Food and Agriculture Organization United Nations Environment Programme (FAO/ UNEP). 1981. Tropical forest resources assessment project. Forest Resources of Tropical America. Forest Resources of Tropical Africa. Forest Resources of Tropical Asia. FAO, Rome.Google Scholar
  10. Grigg, D. B. 1974. The Agricultural Systems of the World: An Evolutionary Approach. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.Google Scholar
  11. Hansen, J., D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, and G. Russell. 1981. Climatic impact of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Science 213: 957966.Google Scholar
  12. Hecht, S. 1981. Cattle ranching in the Eastern Amazon: environmental and social implications. In E. F. Moran (ed.), The Dilemma of Amazonian Development, pp. 155–188. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  13. Houghton, R. A., J. E. Hobbie, J. M. Melillo, B. Moore, B. J. Peterson, G. R. Shaver, and G. M. Woodwell. 1983. Changes in the carbon content of terrestrial biota and soils between 1860 and 1980: a net release of CO2 to the atmosphere. Ecol. Monogr. 53: 235–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Houghton, R. A. and C. A. Palm. The reduction of forests in Southeast Asia since 192 R. A. Houghton 1860: official statistics and assumptions. In J. F. Richards and R. P. Tucker (eds.). The World Economy and World Forests in the Twentieth Century. Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina (in press).Google Scholar
  15. Houghton, R. A. and G. M. Woodwell. 1983. Effect of increased C, N, P, and S on the global storage of C. In B. Bolin and R. B. Cook (eds.), The Major Biogeochemical Cycles and Their Interactions, pp. 327–343. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  16. International Institute of Agriculture. 1922. International Yearbook of Agricultural Statistics ( 1909–1921 ). IIA, Rome.Google Scholar
  17. International Institute of Agriculture. 1939. The First World Agricultural Consus ( 1930 ). HA, Rome.Google Scholar
  18. Kartawinata, K., S. Adisomarto, S. Riswan, and A. P. Vayda. 1981. The impact of man on a tropical forest in Indonesia. Ambio 10: 115–119.Google Scholar
  19. Komkris, T. 1978. Forestry aspects of land use in areas of swidden cultivation. In P. Kunstadter, C. Chapman, and S. Sabhasri (eds.), Farmers in the Forest, pp. 61–70. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.Google Scholar
  20. McEvedy, C. and R. Jones. 1978. Atlas of World Population History. Penguin Books, Middlesex, England.Google Scholar
  21. Moore, B., R. D. Boone, J. E. Hobbie, R. A. Houghton, J. M. Melillo, B. J. Peterson, G. R. Shaver, C. J. Vorosmarty, and G. M. Woodwell. 1981. A simple model for analysis of the role of terrestrial ecosystems in the global carbon budget. In B. Bolin (ed.), Modelling the Global Carbon Cycle: SCOPE 16, pp. 365–385. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Myers, N. 1980. The present status and future prospects of tropical moist forests. Environ. Conserv. 7: 101–114.Google Scholar
  23. National Research Council (NRC). 1982. Ecological Aspects of Development in the Humid Tropics. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  24. Olson, J. S., J. A. Watts, and L. J. Allison. 1983. Carbon in live vegetation of major world ecosystems. TROO4. U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D. C.Google Scholar
  25. Palm, C. A., R. A. Houghton, J. M. Melillo, and D. L. Skole. Atmospheric carbon dioxide from deforestation in Southeast Asia. Biotropica (in press).Google Scholar
  26. Peng, T.-H., W. S. Broecker, H. D. Freyer, and S. Trumbore. 1983. A decon- volution of the tree ring based 813C record. J. Geophys. Res. 88: 3609–3620.Google Scholar
  27. Revelle, R. and W. Munk. 1977. The carbon dioxide cycle and the biosphere. In Energy and Climate, pp. 140–158. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  28. Richards, J. P., J. S. Olson, and R. M. Rotty. 1983. Development of a data base for carbon dioxide releases resulting from conversion of land to agricultural uses. ORAU/IEA-82–10(M), ORNL/TM-8801, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.Google Scholar
  29. Robertson, C. J. 1956. The expansion of the arable area. Scott. Geogr. Mag. 72: 120.Google Scholar
  30. Seavoy, R. E. 1975. The origin of tropical grasslands in Kalimantan, Indonesia. J. Trop. Geogr. 40: 48–52.Google Scholar
  31. Stuiver, M. 1978. Atmospheric carbon dioxide and carbon reservoir changes. Science 199: 388–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tucker, R. P. and J. R. Richards. 1983. Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy. Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  33. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1978. Tropical forest ecosystems, a state-of-knowledge report. Nat. Resour. Res. 14. UNESCO, Paris.Google Scholar
  34. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1965. Changes in agriculture in 26 developing nations 1948–1963. Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No. 27. Economic Research Service, USDA, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  35. Walter, H., E. Harnickell, and D. Mueller-Dumbois. 1975. Climate-Diagram Maps of the Individual Continents and the Ecological Climatic Regions of the Earth. Springer-Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  36. Whyte, R. O. 1974. Tropical Grazing Lands: Communities and Constituent Species. W. Junk, The Hague, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  37. Woodwell, G. M., J. E. Hobbie, R. A. Houghton, J. M. Melillo, B. Moore, B. J. Peterson, and G. R. Shaver. 1983. Global deforestation: contributions to atmospheric carbon dioxide. Science 222: 1081–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Houghton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations