Cocoa Cultivation under Diverse Shade Tree Cover Allows High Carbon Storage and Sequestration without Yield Losses
Authors: Yasmin Abou Rajab, Christoph Leuschner, Henry Barus, Aiyen Tjoa, Dietrich Hertel
Publisher: PLOS One
One of the main drivers of tropical forest loss is their conversion to oil palm, soy or cacao plantations with low biodiversity and greatly reduced carbon storage. Southeast Asian cacao plantations are often established under shade tree cover, but are later converted to non-shaded monocultures to avoid resource competition. We compared three co-occurring cacao cultivation systems (3 replicate stands each) with different shade intensity (non-shaded monoculture, cacao with the legume Gliricidia sepium shade trees, and cacao with several shade tree species) in Sulawesi (Indonesia) with respect to above- and belowground biomass and productivity, and cacao bean yield. Total biomass C stocks (above- and belowground) increased fivefold from the monoculture to the multi-shade tree system (from 11 to 57 Mg ha-1), total net primary production rose twofold (from 9 to 18 Mg C ha-1 yr-1). This increase was associated with a 6fold increase in aboveground biomass, but only a 3.5fold increase in root biomass, indicating a clear shift in C allocation to aboveground tree organs with increasing shade for both cacao and shade trees. Despite a canopy cover increase from 50 to 93%, cacao bean yield remained invariant across the systems (variation: 1.1–1.2 Mg C ha-1 yr-1). The monocultures had a twice as rapid leaf turnover suggesting that shading reduces the exposure of cacao to atmospheric drought, probably resulting in greater leaf longevity. Thus, contrary to general belief, cacao bean yield does not necessarily decrease under shading which seems to reduce physical stress. If planned properly, cacao plantations under a shade tree cover allow combining high yield with benefits for carbon sequestration and storage, production system stability under stress, and higher levels of animal and plant diversity.
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