Australian forests will store less carbon as climate change worsens and severe fires become more commo
Eucalypt forests are well known for bouncing back after fire, and the green shoots that emerge from eucalypts stems as they begin their first steps to recovery provide some of the most iconic images of the Australian bush.
Resprouting allows trees to survive and quickly start photosynthesising again, which keeps carbon "alive" and stored in the tree. On the other hand, if a tree dies and slowly rots, the carbon stored in the tree is released into the atmosphere as a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
But our new research finds more frequent, severe bushfires and a hotter, drier climate may limit eucalypt forests' ability to resprout and reliably lock up carbon. This could seriously undermine our efforts to mitigate climate change.
Our findings paint a cautionary tale of a little known challenge posed by climate change, and gives us yet another reason to urgently and drastically cut global emissions.
We need forests to fight climate change
At the international climate summit in Glasgow last month, more than 100 nations pledged to end and reverse deforestation. This put a much-needed spotlight on the importance of the world's forests in storing carbon to mitigate climate change.
Victoria's national parks alone store almost 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. For perspective, that's roughly a decade's worth of Victoria's net CO₂ emissions in 2019 (91.3 million tons).
Australia's forests have forged a tight relationship with bushfire. But climate change is already changing—and will continue to change—the size, severity and frequency of bushfires. In Victoria, for example, over 250,000 hectares have been burned by at least two severe fires in just 20 years.
This unprecendented frequency has led to the decline of fire sensitive forests, such as the iconic alpine ash.
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