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Tropical Rainforests are Becoming Resilient to Climate Change, Study

First Posted: Mar 12, 2013 12:23 PM EDT

A new study has revealed that rainforest are more resilient to global warming than previously imagined as they are less likely to lose biomass.

Researchers undertook the most comprehensive study yet of the risk of tropical forest dieback due to climate change, the results have important implications for the future evolution of tropical rainforests including the role they play in the global climate system and carbon cycle. Biomass is the biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms.

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was led by Dr. Chris Huntingford from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the U.K. Researchers from the U.S., Australia and Brazil also contributed to the study.

"The big surprise in our analysis 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 (Amazonia and Central America), Africa and Asia," said Dr. Huntingford.

They discovered loss of forest cover in only one model, and only in the Americas. They also discovered that the biggest source of uncertainty in the projections to be variations in how plant physiological processes are represented.

"This study highlights why we must improve our understanding of how tropical forests respond to increasing temperature and drought. Different vegetation models currently simulate remarkable variability in forest sensitivity to climate change. And while these new results suggest that tropical forests may be quite resilient to warming, it is important also to remember that other factors not included in this study, such as fire and deforestation, will also affect the carbon stored in tropical forests. Their impacts are also difficult to simulate. It is therefore critical that modeling studies are accompanied by further comprehensive forest observations," wrote co-author Dr David Galbraith from the University of Leeds.

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