Impacts of land management practices on blue carbon stocks and greenhouse gas fluxes in coastal ecosystems—A meta-analysis

J. Jack O’Connor, Benedikt J. Fest, Michael Sievers, Stephen E. Swearer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
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Global recognition of climate change and its predicted consequences has created the need for practical management strategies for increasing the ability of natural ecosystems to capture and store atmospheric carbon. Mangrove forests, saltmarshes and seagrass meadows, referred to as blue carbon ecosystems (BCEs), are hotspots of atmospheric CO2 storage due to their capacity to sequester carbon at a far higher rate than terrestrial forests. Despite increased effort to understand the mechanisms underpinning blue carbon fluxes, there has been little synthesis of how management activities influence carbon stocks and greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in BCEs. Here, we present a global meta-analysis of 111 studies that measured how carbon stocks and GHG fluxes in BCEs respond to various coastal management strategies. Research effort has focused mainly on restoration approaches, which resulted in significant increases in blue carbon after 4 years compared to degraded sites, and the potential to reach parity with natural sites after 7–17 years. Lesser studied management alternatives, such as sediment manipulation and altered hydrology, showed only increases in biomass and weaker responses for soil carbon stocks and sequestration. The response of GHG emissions to management was complex, with managed sites emitting less than natural reference sites but emitting more compared to degraded sites. Individual GHGs also differed in their responses to management. To date, blue carbon management studies are underrepresented in the southern hemisphere and are usually limited in duration (61% of studies <3 years duration). Our meta-analysis describes the current state of blue carbon management from the available data and highlights recommendations for prioritizing conservation management, extending monitoring time frames of BCE carbon stocks, improving our understanding of GHG fluxes in open coastal systems and redistributing management and research effort into understudied, high-risk areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1354-1366
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


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