Tropical Rainforest Biomass at Less Risk from Global Warming?


A new piece of research published online by Nature Geoscience hints that tropical forests are less likely to lose biomass throughout the twenty first century than scientists originally predicted.

Apparently greenhouse gas emissions are set to have less of an effect on forest plants and planet material than previously thought. The news follows an extremely comprehensive and detailed assessment of the risk of climate change-driven tropical forest dieback, and the results have important implications for evolution of tropical rainforests as well as their role in the planet’s carbon cycle.

Information gleaned from 22 separate climate models

The international team who carried out the research was made up of scientists and specialist ecologists from Britain, the USA, Australia and Brazil. Led by Dr Chris Huntingford of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the team brought complex computer simulations into play, using 22 separate climate models to explore the effects of human-generated climate change on rainforests in Amazonia, Central America, Africa and Asia. Only one of the 22 models hinted at a serious loss of forest cover, and the study only predicted loss on one continent – the Americas.

A smaller effect than originally predicted

The results suggest the impact of climate change-led damage on our tropical forests might well be smaller than many people assumed, but the team stressed there are still a considerable number of unknowns in defining how environments and ecosystems react to climate change. They found the biggest uncertainties lay in trying to predict future differences in plant physiological processes, mostly because of an on-going lack of clarity about future climate projections.

Evidence of rainforest resilience

As Dr Chris Huntingford says, “The big surprise… is that uncertainties in ecological models of the rainforest are significantly larger than uncertainties from differences in climate projections. Despite this we conclude that, based on current knowledge of expected climate change and ecological response, there is evidence of forest resilience for the Americas, Africa and Asia.”


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