February 27, 2020. Life / Nature’s Solutions to Climate Change
Cyril F. Kormos, Shyla Raghav, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Russell A. Mittermeier, Brendan Mackey, Wes Sechrest
Unlike grasslands, forests get most of the attention in schemes to use natural ecosystems for capturing and storing carbon. Nevertheless, grasslands account for about 35% of global terrestrial carbon storage, potentially exceeding the carbon stored in forests. Compared to forests, grasslands store more of their carbon —up to 98%— belowground.
To understand why grassland carbon is belowground, it helps to think of these ecosystems as lands of frequent fires and large herbivores like bison, elephants, wildebeest and many extinct beasts such as mammoths. Over millions of years of fire and herbivory aboveground, grassland plants evolved to protect their biomass belowground.
Many grasslands are biodiversity hotspots with large concentrations of endemic species. Unfortunately, efforts to increase carbon storage in grasslands by planting trees put the carbon storage capacity and biodiversity of ancient grasslands at risk.
Maintaining and restoring natural grasslands —and avoiding tree-planting— is critical if we are to promote both carbon storage and biodiversity conservation.
This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “Nature’s Solutions to Climate Change” (2019)