Keywords : carbon cycle, forest ecology, tropical ecology
Deforestation in the tropics is not only responsible for direct carbon emissions but also extends the forest edge wherein trees suffer increased mortality. Here we combine high-resolution (30 m) satellite maps of forest cover with estimates of the edge effect and show that 19% of the remaining area of tropical forests lies within 100 m of a forest edge. The tropics house around 50 million forest fragments and the length of the world’s tropical forest edges sums to nearly 50 million km. Edge effects in tropical forests have caused an additional 10.3 Gt (2.1–14.4 Gt) of carbon emissions, which translates into 0.34 Gt per year and represents 31% of the currently estimated annual carbon releases due to tropical deforestation. Fragmentation substantially augments carbon emissions from tropical forests and must be taken into account when analysing the role of vegetation in the global carbon cycle.