Fascinating research on the extent and sharing of tree roots

We did not detect a difference between species in the volume of soil reached by roots. We also found roots extending more than 20 meters (60 feet) away from the tree trunk.”

The six trees in the experiment, Anacardium excelsum (Espave in Spanish), Cedrela odorataDalbergia retusa (Cocobolo), Pachira quinata (Cedro Espino), Tabebuia rosea (Roble) and a (Amarillo), all have high timber value and are commonly used for reforestation in Panama.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we found root systems to be every bit as diverse as the crowns of trees, a morphological diversity that is important to understand as it suggests a more thorough exploitation of belowground resources,” said Hall. “Interestingly, we also found that two of the forty trees (5 percent) we excavated (a Terminalia Amazonia and a Pachira quinata) were connected with neighboring species via grafts of coarse roots.

Are these trees sharing resources? Would we have found a higher percentage of root grafts if we would have had the ability to look at fine roots? Clearly there is more work to be done.”Katherine Sinacore, Jefferson Scott Hall, Catherine Potvin, Alejandro A. Royo, Mark J. Ducey, Mark S. Ashton. Unearthing the hidden world of roots: Root biomass and architecture differ among species within the same guildPLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (10): e0185934 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185934

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “Tropical tree roots represent an underappreciated carbon pool.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171012151757.htm>.

Reforestation is a big climate change solution.  It can be difficult, but sometimes it is surprising easy, as we reported recently in an experiment in Costa Rica.

PNAS: Natural Climate Solutions – This research says that restoration of natural areas and forests could contribute a third of what we need to stabilize the climate, if we act fast!

Most nations recently agreed to hold global average temperature rise to well below 2 °C. We examine how much climate mitigation nature can contribute to this goal with a comprehensive analysis of “natural climate solutions” (NCS): 20 conservation, restoration, and/or improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. We show that NCS can provide over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2 °C. Alongside aggressive fossil fuel emissions reductions, NCS offer a powerful set of options for nations to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement while improving soil productivity, cleaning our air and water, and maintaining biodiversity.


Better stewardship of land is needed to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goal of holding warming to below 2 °C; however, confusion persists about the specific set of land stewardship options available and their mitigation potential. To address this, we identify and quantify “natural climate solutions” (NCS): 20 conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. We find that the maximum potential of NCS—when constrained by food security, fiber security, and biodiversity conservation—is 23.8 petagrams of CO2 equivalent (PgCO2e) y−1 (95% CI 20.3–37.4). This is ≥30% higher than prior estimates, which did not include the full range of options and safeguards considered here. About half of this maximum (11.3 PgCO2e y−1) represents cost-effective climate mitigation, assuming the social cost of CO2 pollution is ≥100 USD MgCO2e−1 by 2030. Natural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030 for a >66% chance of holding warming to below 2 °C. One-third of this cost-effective NCS mitigation can be delivered at or below 10 USD MgCO2−1. Most NCS actions—if effectively implemented—also offer water filtration, flood buffering, soil health, biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience. Work remains to better constrain uncertainty of NCS mitigation estimates. Nevertheless, existing knowledge reported here provides a robust basis for immediate global action to improve ecosystem stewardship as a major solution to climate change.

Rainforest in ruin. Mighty Earth Chocolate Barons Devastate National Parks in West Africa, By Davis Harper on EcoWatch

For several years, chocolate barons have devastated forests to make room to plant cocoa, a crop that naturally grows in shade. Now, a report from Mighty Earth—a nonprofit that works to conserve threatened landscapes—shows new evidence that illegal deforestation is occurring in protected areas; specifically, in the national parks of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce a combined 2.6 million tons of chocolate—60 percent of the world’s supply. It’s no wonder so many of these nations’ protected lands are at risk. According to Mighty Earth’s report, 10 percent of Ghana’s tree cover has been replaced by cocoa monocultures. The Ivory Coast, once heavily forested and extremely biodiverse, has lost seven of its 23 protected areas to cocoa. Due to habitat loss, its chimpanzees are now endangered, and its elephants are nearly extinct. This means that companies like Mars, Nestlé, Hersey’s and Godiva are on the hot seat for making products using cocoa grown by uncertified sources.

“Chocolate companies have taken advantage of corrupt governance in Ghana and the Ivory Coast to deforest parklands,” saic Glenn Horowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth. With a rising demand for the world’s guiltiest pleasure, chocolate companies are also taking advantage of farmers—on average, these growers are paid less than 80 cents a day. “The main issue is that chocolate producers have neglected to establish a direct relationship with cocoa growers,” said Horowitz.

The new report documents cocoa beans’ journey through the supply chain: Middlemen, called pisteurs, buy the crop from settlers and transport them to neighboring villages, where they are sold to cooperatives (more middlemen), who sell them to agribusinesses, who then sell them to major chocolate producers.

Despite extensive sustainability initiatives proposed by chocolate corporations like Mars, deforestation rates remain high, and cocoa farmers’ wages low—and these companies continue to illegally source cocoa from protected areas. Horowitz hopes Mighty Earth’s report will function as a wake-up call, and preface a shift from promises to actions. “Chocolate producers have the power to demand deforestation-free cocoa, and that growers are paid well in the process. We’ve seen this change in other commodities, such as palm oil, for instance—in which case, consumer companies and traders set strong conservation and human rights standards that, when well-implemented, have made a big difference on the ground.”

It’s a far-from-impossible task. Several sustainable cocoa companies manage to not only produce cocoa without destroying rain forests, but also to give a fair share of proceeds directly to their growers—in many cases, local smallholder farmers. So, what’s stopping major producers from doing the same?

In response to Mighty Earth’s report, Amy Truelson, senior manager of external affairs for Mars, wrote, “Mars and the World Cocoa Foundation agree with many of the report’s recommendations, notably the importance of forest protection and restoration, sector transparency, joint action for monitoring and compliance, and protecting indigenous community rights. We fully support the World Cocoa Foundation’s position that there should be no conversion of any remaining forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for cocoa production.” Purportedly, Mars continues to strive toward its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its chocolate from certified sources by 2020 (the company is currently at 50 percent).

Nestle, Hershey’s and Godiva did not respond to requests for comment.

The pressure surrounding the issue is mounting. Case in point? The recent pledge that 12 of the largest cocoa and chocolate manufacturers in the world made to Prince Charles of Wales—a longtime proponent of a more sustainable chocolate industry in the name of climate change mitigation. Earlier this year, the Prince of Wales met with companies including Mars, Nestle and Ferrero in London to solidify their commitments to develop a plan to end deforestation in the cocoa industry, which they’ll present to the United Nations Framework Convention during next month’s Climate Summit.

Horowitz has high hopes for change in the chocolate industry. Still, he warned, “These companies have to understand that they can’t just pay lip service to conservation. They’re going to have to change the way they do business.”