The nitrogen fixing trees can help tropical forests make a recovery, researchers have suggested citing some species of trees can restore lost nutrients in deforested areas, helping other trees to grow.
Researchers at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and their colleagues at Princeton University, Wageningen University, the University of Copenhagen and Yale University carried the study. Their field study in Panama showed that denuded forests were efficiently restored in a few years, mostly with the help of leguminous plants that fix atmospheric nitrogen and pump it into the soil.
Their research suggests that the role of these ecosystems in offsetting atmospheric accumulation of carbon from fossil fuels is dependent upon the diversity of the trees growing there, especially in second-growth forests.
The study showed that legume trees accumulated carbon nine times faster than non nitrogen-fixers during the early stages of forests’ comeback. These trees even provided enough nitrogen for other trees to grow.
“This is the first solid case showing how nitrogen fixation by tropical trees directly affects the rate of carbon recovery after agricultural fields are abandoned. Trees turn nitrogen fixation on and off according to the need for nitrogen in the system,” Jefferson Hall, STRI staff scientist and one of the study authors, said in a news release.
The study is published in the journal Nature.