Below and above-ground carbon distribution along a rainfall gradient. A case of the Zambezi teak forests, Zambia

Justine Ngoma*, Eddy Moors, Bart Kruijt, James H. Speer, Royd Vinya, Emmanuel N. Chidumayo, Rik Leemans

*Corresponding author for this work

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Understanding carbon (C) stocks or biomass in forests is important to examine how forests mitigate climate change. To estimate biomass in stems, branches and roots takes intensive fieldwork to uproot, cut and weigh the mass of each component. Different models or equations are also required. Our research focussed on the dry tropical Zambezi teak forests and we studied their structure at three sites following a rainfall gradient in Zambia. We sampled 3558 trees at 42 plots covering a combined area of 15ha. Using data from destructive tree samples, we developed mixed-species biomass models to estimate above ground biomass for small (<5 cm diameter at breast height (DBH, 1.3 m above-ground)) and large (≥5 cm DBH) trees involving 90 and 104 trees respectively, that belonged to 12 species. A below-ground biomass model was developed from seven trees of three species (16–44 cm DBH) whose complete root systems were excavated. Three stump models were also derived from these uprooted trees. Finally, we determined the C fractions from 194 trees that belonged to 12 species. The analysis revealed that DBH was the only predictor that significantly correlated to both above-ground and below-ground biomass. We found a mean root-to-shoot ratio of 0.38:0.62. The C fraction in leaves ranged from 39% to 42%, while it varied between 41% and 46% in wood. The C fraction was highest at the Kabompo site that received the highest rainfall, and lowest at the intermediate Namwala site. The C stocks varied between 15 and 36 ton C ha−1 and these stocks where highest at the wetter Kabompo site and lowest at the drier Sesheke site. Our results indicate that the projected future rainfall decrease for southern Africa, will likely reduce the C storage potential of the Zambezi teak forests, thereby adversely affecting their mitigating role in climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages13
JournalActa Oecologica
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Above-ground biomass
  • Allometry
  • Below-ground biomass
  • Carbon stock
  • Root-to-shoot ratio
  • Zambezi teak forests


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