Forests more resilient to climate change

London - The world's tropical forests are less likely to lose biomass, or plant material, this century due to the effects of global warming than previously thought, scientists said in a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday.

This adds to growing evidence that rainforests might be more resilient to the effects of climate change than feared.

Tropical forests play an important role in the world's climate system because they soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) and use it to grow leaves, branches and roots.

It is estimated that they store around 470 billion tons of carbon in their biomass and soil, some of which can be released back into the atmosphere when plants rot or get burnt.

Rising global temperatures cause droughts and fires, which can kill trees, but estimates vary on how much forest cover would be lost in a warming world.

Airborne fertiliser

In 2009, a group of British scientists said that 20% to 40% of the Amazon could die off within 100 years if global temperatures rose by 2°C and 85% would be lost if temperatures rose by 4°, which is seen as increasingly likely.

But a study last month said the Amazon rainforest was less vulnerable to dying off because CO2 also acts as an airborne fertiliser.

In this study, scientists and tropical ecologists from Britain, the US, Australia and Brazil used computer simulations based on 22 climate models to study the response of tropical forests in the Americas, Africa and Asia to rising global temperatures.

The research team found forest cover loss in only one model, in the Americas (Amazonia and Central America).

"We conclude that... there is evidence of forest resilience for the Americas, Africa and Asia," said lead author Chris Huntingford, from Britain's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

However, there are still uncertainties in gauging how ecosystems respond to global warming, the study said.

"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," said co-author David Galbraith from the University of Leeds.

The impacts of these factors are difficult to gauge so further study is needed, he added.

Deforestation derives from human activity and can aggravate the effects of climate change by releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Brazil has sharply reduced forest losses in recent years. But predictions of a die-back in coming decades had led some people to conclude that there was no point safeguarding trees.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Eskom has considered continuous load shedding at Stage 2, instead of introducing it when the power system faces a crunch. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
I'm all for it - we're going to have power cuts regardless, so we might as well have some stability to better plan our lives
45% - 4323 votes
No thanks! I prefer having periods of no load shedding and we cannot normalise this crisis
55% - 5228 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
18.04
-0.5%
Rand - Pound
19.17
+1.1%
Rand - Euro
17.40
-0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.72
-0.2%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.5%
Gold
1,638.25
-0.3%
Silver
18.59
-1.5%
Palladium
2,087.50
+0.7%
Platinum
861.00
+0.3%
Brent Crude
86.15
-5.0%
Top 40
57,110
0.0%
All Share
63,417
0.0%
Resource 10
56,319
0.0%
Industrial 25
78,436
0.0%
Financial 15
14,142
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE