Information on carbon stock and flux resulting from land-use changes in subtropical, semi-arid ecosystems are important to understand global carbon flux, yet little data is available. In the Tamaulipan thornscrub forests of northeastern Mexico, biomass components of standing vegetation were estimated from 56 quadrats (200 m2 each). Regional land-use changes and present forest cover, as well as estimates of soil organic carbon from chronosequences, were used to predict carbon stocks and fluxes in this ecosystem.
For the period of 1980–1996, the Tamaulipan thornscrub is presenting an annual deforestation rate of 2.27% indicating that approximately 600 km2 of this plant community are lost every year and that 60% of the original Mexican Tamaulipan thornscrub vegetation has been lost since the 1950's. On the other hand, intensive agriculture, including introduced grasslands increased (4,000 km2) from 32 to 42% of the total studied area, largely at the expense of the Tamaulipan thornscrub forests. Land-use changes from Tamaulipan thornscrub forest to agriculture contribute 2.2 Tg to current annual carbon emissions and standing biomass averages 0.24 ± 0.06 Tg, root biomass averages 0.17 ± 0.03 Tg, and soil organic carbon averages 1.80 ± 0.27 Tg. Land-use changes from 1950 to 2000 accounted for Carbon emissions of the order of 180.1 Tg. Projected land-use changes will likely contribute to an additional carbon flux of 98.0 Tg by the year 2100. Practices to conserve sequester, and transfer carbon stocks in semi-arid ecosystems are discussed as a means to reduce carbon flux from deforestation practices.