A safer bet for REDD+: Review of the evidence on the relationship between biodiversity and the resilience of forest carbon stocks

Author: Miles, L., Dunning, E., Doswald, N., Osti, M.
Date Published: October 2010

There is a growing belief that the carbon stocks of intact, naturally occurring, biodiverse forests are likely to be more resilient to climate change than those of planted, less diverse forests (e.g. Fischer et al. 2006; Bodin and Wiman 2007). Resilience in this context means that forests can resist and or recover from the negative effects of climate change. Resistance and recovery will differ between forests for various reasons. This review examines the role of biodiversity and related factors in carbon stock resilience.

Key Findings

Resilience of forest carbon stocks to climate change, in terms of resistance to and recovery from its direct and indirect impacts, is essential for the long-term viability of REDD+.

There is strong evidence that the carbon stocks of intact forests are more resilient than those of degraded or fragmented forest, and hence that reducing degradation should be a key REDD+ activity.

There is a small amount of evidence to suggest that whilst management decisions can increase planted forests’ resilience to change, naturally occurring forests may be more resilient. This evidence lends some additional support to the rationale for a safeguard on the conversion of natural forest, already justified in terms of emissions reduction.

If a forest is natural and intact, is there additional benefit from higher levels of biodiversity? There is good evidence that resilience increases with biodiversity for grassland and savanna ecosystems, but only a few relevant observations for forest. Ecological theory would indicate that the pattern will hold true, but targeted research on the role of biodiversity in forest carbon stock resilience would help to identify which forests are most likely to retain their stocks in future.