Research Article

Changes in forest cover and carbon stocks of the coastal scarp forests of the Wild Coast, South Africa

Published in: Southern Forests: a Journal of Forest Science
Volume 79, issue 4, 2017, pages: 305–315
DOI: 10.2989/20702620.2016.1255480
Author(s): Kagiso MangwaleDepartment of Environmental Science, South Africa, Charlie M ShackletonDepartment of Environmental Science, South Africa, Ayanda SigwelaR3G, South Africa


Land-use intensification and declines in vegetative cover are considered pervasive threats to forests and biodiversity globally. The small extent and high biodiversity of indigenous forests in South Africa make them particularly important. Yet, relatively little is known about their rates of use and change. From analysis of past aerial photos we quantified rates of forest cover change in the Matiwane forests of the Wild Coast, South Africa, between 1942 and 2007, as well as quantified above and belowground (to 0.5 m depth) carbon stocks based on a composite allometric equation derived for the area. Rates of forest conversion were spatially variable, with some areas showing no change and others more noticeable changes. Overall, the net reduction was 5.2% (0.08% p.a.) over the 65-year period. However, the rate of reduction has accelerated with time. Some of the reduction was balanced by natural reforestation into formerly cleared areas, but basal area, biomass and carbon stocks are still low in the reforested areas. The total carbon stock was highest in intact forests (311.7 ± 23.7 Mg C ha−1), followed by degraded forests (73.5 ± 12.3 Mg C ha−1) and least in regrowth forests (51.2 ± 6.2 Mg C ha−1). The greatest contribution to total carbon stocks was soil carbon, contributing 54% in intact forests, and 78% and 68% in degraded and regrowth forests, respectively. The Matiwane forests store 4.78 Tg C, with 4.7 Tg C in intact forests, 0.06 Tg C in degraded forests and 0.02 Tg C in regrowth forests. The decrease in carbon stocks within the forests as a result of the conversion of the forest area to agricultural fields was 0.19 Tg C and approximately 0.0003 Tg C was released through harvesting of firewood and building timber.

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