How are soil carbon and tropical biodiversity related?

Douglas Sheil, Brenton Ladd, Lucas C.R. Silva, Shawn W. Laffan, Miriam Van Heist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This article discusses how biological conservation can benefit from an understanding of soil carbon. Protecting natural areas not only safeguards the biota but also curtails atmospheric carbon emissions. Opportunities for funding biological conservation could potentially be greater if soil carbon content is considered. In this article current knowledge concerning the magnitude and vulnerability of soil carbon stocks is reviewed and the relationship of these stocks to biological conservation values is explored. Looking at two relatively well-studied tropical regions we find that 15 of 21 animal species of conservation concern in the Virunga Landscape (Central Africa), and nine of ten such species in the Federal District of Brazil (Central Brazil), rely on carbon-rich habitats (alluvial and/or wetlands). At national scales, densities of species, endemics and threatened taxa (plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) show positive and significant relations with mean soil carbon content in all but two cases (threatened amphibians and threatened fish). Of more than 1000 threatened species in 37 selected tropical nations, 85% rely on carbon-rich habitats. This tendency is observed in plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans, while birds appear more evenly distributed. Research to clarify and explore these relationships is needed. Soil carbon offers major opportunities for conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Conservation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • REDD
  • carbon stocks
  • conservation
  • detritus
  • organic matter
  • peat
  • tropical forests
  • wetlands


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