Exotic plant species release 150 percent more carbon dioxide from the soil than native New Zealand plants, according to a new study from the Bio-Protection Research Centre published in Science.
The research is the latest development in an extended scientific debate over whether to prioritise planting native or exotic species to increase biodiversity and fight climate change.
While it doesn’t upset the longstanding scientific consensus that faster-growing plants sequester more carbon – and that exotic species planted outside their usual range will grow faster – the study does complicate the picture of the carbon cycle.
Carbon cycling and the soil
So what is the carbon cycle and how does CO2 get into the soil in the first place?
“It’s really important to think of it as a cycle,” the study’s lead author Dr Lauren Waller told Newsroom. Waller is a researcher at Lincoln University and a postdoctoral fellow at the Bio-Protection Research Centre.
While most people understand that plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they don’t always realise what happens next.