Amazon rainforest is losing its diversity of tree species due to climate change: Study

Higher intensity droughts due to deforestation have aggravated the effects of climate change.

The largest patch of natural rainforests on Earth isn’t coping well with the effects of climate change, claims a new study examining multiple different species for three decades.

A team of almost a hundred scientists led by the University of Leeds studied the health of individual trees in the Amazon basin over several decades.

The trees in the Amazon rainforest are inherently moisture-loving. With warmer temperatures and changes in humidity, trees are dying at faster rates than it takes evolution to develop coping mechanisms, the study explains.

“The ecosystem’s response is lagging behind the rate of climate change,” Dr Adriane Muelbert, the study's lead author from the University of Leeds, told university press.

“The data showed us that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decades had serious consequences… higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts, and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive drier conditions.”

The lush greenery that comes with diversity in the tree species in the Amazon rainforest appears to be under threat from climate change. Image courtesy: WWF

The lush, green wealth of trees that comes from a rainforest having a rich diversity of tree species appears to be under threat from climate change. Image courtesy: WWF

But it wasn’t all bad news — there were also a few winners in this quiet, bloodless battle.

Taller trees that make up the forest’s canopy thrived, and out-competed shorter plants over time. They also had access to more atmospheric carbon dioxide — another factor that allows them to grow faster.

Other opportunists like ‘pioneer’ trees spring up quickly in the spaces where old trees have died. Trees like this have also flourished in the Amazons.

Biodiversity of rainforests can change irreparably as effects of changing climate begin to show in forest communities. Species of trees that are vulnerable to dry conditions are typically the ones to most sensitive because of their sparse and spread out locations in the forest. These water-loving trees, the study says, are most likely to reach extinction first.

“Our findings highlight the need for strict measures to protect existing intact rainforests,” Dr Kyle Dexter, co-author of the study from the University of Edinburgh, told the press.

“Deforestation for agriculture and livestock is known to intensify the droughts in this region, which is exacerbating the effects already being caused by global climate change.”

The study was published in Global Change Biology.

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