Tropical forests store 40-50% of terrestrial vegetation carbon. Spatial variations in aboveground live tree biomass carbon (AGC) stocks remain poorly understood, in particular in tropical montane forests. Because of climatic and soil changes with increasing elevation, AGC stocks are lower in tropical montane compared to lowland forests. Here we assemble and analyse a dataset of structurally intact old-growth forests (AfriMont) spanning 44 montane sites in 12 African countries. We find that montane sites in the AfriMont plot network have a mean AGC-stock of 149.4 Mg C/ha (95% CI 137.1-164.2), comparable to lowland forests in the African Tropical Rainforest Observation Network and about 70% and 32% higher than averages from plot networks in montane and lowland forests in the Neotropics, respectively. Notably, our results are two-thirds higher than the
IPCC default values for these forests in Africa. We find that the low stem density and high abundance of large trees of African lowland forests is mirrored in the montane forests sampled. This carbon store is endangered: we estimate that 0.8 million ha of old-growth African montane forest have been lost since 2000. We provide country-specific montane forest AGC stock estimates modelled from our plot network to help guide forest conservation and reforestation interventions. Our findings highlight the need for conserving these biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems.
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