NOV 09, 2018 03:05 PM PST

Can Amazon trees keep up?

New research from the University of Leeds and a collaboration of 30 global institutions suggests that Amazon tree diversity is under extreme threat by climate change. Looking at data from a hundred plots from the Amazon Forest Inventory Network over 30 years, the scientists determined the warming planet has drastically changed species composition within the Amazon.

Photo: Rainforest Rescue

Tracking individual trees growth and mortality over the past 30 years,the scientists found that moisture-loving trees are dying more often than other species. Nevertheless, species suited to drier climates were unable to adapt to replace those moisture-loving trees that were dying off, resulting in a gap in tree diversity as well as a decline in population numbers.

“The ecosystem’s response is lagging behind the rate of climate change. The data shows us that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decade had serious consequences for forest makeup, with higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive dryer conditions,” said lead author of the study Dr. Adriane Esquivel Muelbert.

This research also confirms previous studies that have reported that canopy tree species in rainforests will be better equipped in a world with climate change because they thrive with more carbon dioxide. Due to this, species composition in the Amazon rainforest will likely change in the coming decades of warmer climate. Smaller understory plants will have difficulty growing in the shade of larger canopy trees. This will in turn have a significant impact on wildlife in these regions as well.

Co-author Oliver Phillips commented that “The impact of climate change on forest communities has significant consequences for rainforest biodiversity. The species most vulnerable to drought are doubly at risk, as they are typically the ones restricted to fewer locations in the heart of the Amazon, which makes them more likely to become extinct if this process continues. Our findings highlight the need for strict measures to protect existing intact rainforest. Deforestation for agriculture and livestock is known to intensify the droughts in this region, exacerbating the effects already caused by global climate.”

According to one study, land clearing for cattle ranching accounts for an estimated 70% of deforestation in the Amazon basin. Additionally, the agricultural practice of slash and burn results in man made forest fires that emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increase erosion in already degraded areas.

The only upside from this study points to several pioneer tree species in the Amazon rainforest that have grown in the last decades. The scientists hope that these species will be able to compensate for the extreme downfall in biodiversity due to climate change.

Sources: Science Daily, Global Change Biology

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
Deep-Sea Critters Opportunistically Munch on a Sunken Whale Carcass
The ocean floor can be a lifeless and desolate place to be; so much so that marine animals have taken notice. It’s not often that you’ll find f...
DEC 15, 2019
Microbiology
DEC 15, 2019
The Unusual Microbiome of Bats
Even closely related bats may not have similar gut microbes, and these unusual mammals may not have the same relationship with their microbiome as other animals....
DEC 15, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 15, 2019
Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer's, Study Finds
Worldwide, 9 in every 10 people breathe highly polluted air. A known contributing factor for many respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer, an increasing ...
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
Florida's Manatees Are a Conservation Success Story
Manatees are be a common sight for Floridians who reside close to rivers and other natural waterways, but there was once a time when that wasn’t the...
DEC 15, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 15, 2019
Scientists Get a Closer Look at "The Plastisphere"
Plastic litter is a global problem, and some of the tiniest culprits are not visible to the naked eye. These microplastics have infiltrated the world's...
DEC 15, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 15, 2019
Household Dust Samples Found to Contain Potentially Toxic LCD Chemicals
Our technology may be impacting our health in ways we did not realize....
Loading Comments...