Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Unlocking the secrets of the Amazon

16.06.2005


The world’s largest and most species rich forests are changing faster than we thought. We know the Amazonian rainforests are disappearing – around a fifth has been lost to logging and cattle ranging – but University geographers have discovered that the forests are changing at a remarkable rate. Their findings suggest we still don’t understand exactly how long the rainforests can continue to be the planet’s ‘lung’ or even how they really work.



Geographers and earth scientists have just returned from a two-month field trip deep in the rainforests of Amazonian Peru with colleagues from Peru, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Colombia. “We’re very interested in the role of tropical forests in the global carbon cycle,” said Natural Environment Research Council fellow Dr Tim Baker. “These forests store large amounts of carbon. It’s vital to understand exactly how much carbon they’re holding and how this may change over time.”

An important aim of the RAINFOR project is to show how Amazonian forests are not all the same. The team has been measuring the diameter of the same trees in over 100 plots every four to five years since the early 1980s. This enables them to calculate how much carbon is stored in the tree, and the forest as a whole, and how this has changed since the project began.


“There’s a lot of variation in how much carbon is stored in these forests in different sites,” said Dr Baker. “Trees in Peru have lower density wood than those in Brazil, so the forest stores less carbon. We believe this is related to the soil quality rather than the climate – on the generally richer soils in Peru, faster growing species with lower density wood have a ‘competitive’ advantage.”

They have also discovered that trees are dying at an increased rate. However, although they’re dying quicker, their growth rates have also increased, with the overall effect that the amount of carbon stored in the Amazon forests has also gone up slightly. An increased biomass (a bigger tree) means more carbon has been taken out of the atmosphere, so these trees have been helping to slow climate change.

The researchers believe that, ironically, the faster growth and increased biomass is because the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is ‘fertilising’ the forests – the rainforests are responding to man-made climate change.

“Overall, this would seem to be very good news,” said tropical ecology reader Dr Oliver Phillips. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen in the long-term. Obviously if trees continue to die at younger ages then we can expect biomass to start to fall. It may also have a negative effect on the biodiversity of the forests.

“For example, there’s a real worry that faster growth rates will favour more ‘weedy’ tree species which have less dense wood and therefore store less carbon. We are already seeing some changes: for example fast-growing lianas, woody vines of the kind favoured by Tarzan, are becoming more dominant.”

The team is using a database of 2,500 kinds of tree to see whether species and particular characteristics of the forest are changing on a widespread basis. Species such as balsa are lower density, so contain less carbon. Heavy wood, like that of the brazil nut or mahogany trees, is much better in terms of acting as a carbon store so a decrease in the number of these types of trees could have environmentally disastrous implications.

Changes in biodiversity – the patterns over the last 25 years, what is likely to happen, and the effect this will have on climate change – are the focus of the team’s new NERC-funded initiative, as part of the wider RAINFOR project, which began in October 2004. However, understanding the basic principles of how the rainforest works remains crucial to this. “We’ve just discovered a new forest type that turns conventional wisdom about the plant species composition of Amazon forests on its head,” explains Dr Baker.

“Previous work has found a strong east/west divide in the kinds of trees found in Amazonia. But on unusual soils in the far western limit of Amazonia, we have discovered vegetation that is essentially eastern Amazonian in composition.” New plots in Peru have species more similar to those found in Brazil than in neighbouring forests.

The big question for the team now is: what controls the forests – current ecological processes or historical patterns of evolution? “Understanding these patterns will inform the kinds of changes we can expect from global environmental change,” said Dr Baker.

Leeds is top of a list of successful bidders for ‘blue skies awards’ from NERC to support high quality research, one of which is funding this project. The RAINFOR team’s findings show the importance of unlocking the secrets of the Amazon.

“These forests are absorbing more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by the UK every year,” said Dr Baker. “Understanding their future is of global importance.”

Hannah Love | alfa
Further information:
http://reporter.leeds.ac.uk
http://www.leeds.ac.uk

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

nachricht Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>