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High Diversity of Trees in Amazon Could Mitigate Climate Risks

Aug 30, 2016 04:10 AM EDT

A new study reveals that high plant trait diversity in the Amazon Rainforest could help the tropical ecosystem in adapting to the climactic stress brought by climate change, mitigating potential negative outcomes.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that certain trees that are dominant in the Amazon today could decrease due to climate change. However, new trees that are more suitable to the new climate conditions will emerge and take the place of the declining trees.

"Biodiversity shows not to be a nice-to-have but indeed a must-have," explained lead author Boris Sakschewski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in a statement. "We find it could be functional for the long-term survival of Earth's large reservoirs of biomass, such as the forests of the Amazon region."

For the study, the researchers investigated an experimental site in Ecuador and then extended their simulations to the Amazon basin. The researchers discovered that tree survival, which depends on the so-called "leaf economics," could help the Amazon Rainforest in adjusting to some level of climate change. Leaf economics is the difference in size, thickness, longevity or density of leaves that defines the ability of a plant to survive in higher temperatures and water scarcity.

In their simulations, a decline in biomass due to moderate climate change could be substantially recovered in the vast area of the Amazon with the help of high biodiversity. During such scenario, about 80 percent of the Amazon would experience re-growth after a hundred years.

However, less than 20 percent of the Amazon area would experience the same recovery if nothing is done to change business-as-usual greenhouse emissions leading to massive climate change.

Researchers also warned that even with high biodiversity helping the Amazon Rainforest recover during moderate climate change, a huge disruption in the transition could cause the specie composition to be different after the recovery.

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