December 16, 2012

Many Amazon trees should survive climate warming

New genetic analysis shows that many Amazon tree species are more likely to survive climate warming than science previously thought. The authors of the study also go on to warn that extreme drought and forest fires will nevertheless have a severe impact on Amazonia as global temperatures rise.

Their main message to policy makers was that conservation policy for the Amazon should be focused on reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions and preventing deforestation.

“Our paper provides evidence that common Amazon tree species endured climates warmer than the present, implying that – in the absence of other major environmental changes – they could tolerate near-term future warming under climate change,” said Dick, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and acting director of the U-M Herbarium.

But study co-author Simon Lewis of University College London and the University of Leeds cautioned that “the past cannot be compared directly with the future.”

“While tree species seem likely to tolerate higher air temperatures than today, the Amazon forest is being converted for agriculture and mining, and what remains is being degraded by logging and increasingly fragmented by fields and roads,” Lewis said. “Species will not move as freely in today’s Amazon as they did in previous warm periods, when there was no human influence. Similarly, today’s climate change is extremely fast, making comparisons with the past difficult.”


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