Carbon stocks in coffee agroforests and mixed dry tropical forests in the western highlands of Guatemala

Mikaela Schmitt-Harsh, Tom P. Evans, Edwin Castellanos, J. C. Randolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Tree removal in Latin American coffee agroforestry systems has been widespread due to complex and interacting factors that include fluctuating international markets, government-supported agricultural policies, and climate change. Despite shade tree removal and land conversion risks, there is currently no widespread policy incentive encouraging the maintenance of shade trees for the benefit of carbon sequestration. In facilitation of such incentives, an understanding of the capacity of coffee agroforests to store carbon relative to tropical forests must be developed. Drawing on ecological inventories conducted in 2007 and 2010 in the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala, this research examines the carbon pools of smallholder coffee agroforests (CAFs) as they compare to a mixed dry forest (MDF) system. Data from 61 plots, covering a total area of 2.24 ha, was used to assess the aboveground, coarse root, and soil carbon reservoirs of the two land-use systems. Results of this research demonstrate the total carbon stocks of CAFs to range from 74.0 to 259.0 Megagrams (Mg) C ha -1 with a mean of 127.6 ± 6.6 (SE) Mg C ha -1. The average carbon stocks of CAFs was significantly lower than estimated for the MDF (198.7 ± 32.1 Mg C ha -1); however, individual tree and soil pools were not significantly different suggesting that agroforest shade trees play an important role in facilitating carbon sequestration and soil conservation. This research demonstrates the need for conservation-based initiatives which recognize the carbon sequestration benefits of coffee agroforests alongside natural forest systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-157
Number of pages17
JournalAgroforestry Systems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Agroforestry
  • Carbon
  • Land conversion
  • Shade-grown coffee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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