You know the old saying: Location, location, location? It turns out that it applies to the Amazon rainforest, too. New work from Carnegie's Greg Asner illustrates a hidden tapestry of chemical variation across the lowland Peruvian Amazon, with plants in different areas producing an array of chemicals that changes across the region's topography. His team's work is published by Nature Geoscience.
"Our findings tell us that lowland Amazon forests are far more geographically sorted than we once thought," Asner explained. "It is not simply a swath of green that occurs with everything strewn randomly. Place does matter, even if it all appears to be flat and green monotony at first glance."
Although lowland Amazon forests look monotonously green from satellites, Carnegie scientists have discovered that they are actually arranged in chemically-distinct communities patterned by the soils and microtopography that underlie the forest. This Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) image reveals floodplain forest canopies in red that are naturally packed with growth chemicals, as compared to forest canopies on neighboring terraces in yellow-green that are outfitted with fewer growth chemicals. These CAO maps explain the geographic pattern of carbon dioxide uptake in the lowland Amazon, and help to predict forest responses to climate change. Image is courtesy of Greg Asner.
Credit: Greg Asner
The Amazonian forest occupies more than five million square kilometers, stretching from the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Andes. Thousands of tree and other plant species are found throughout this area, each synthesizing a complex portfolio of chemicals to accomplish a variety of functions from capturing sunlight to fighting off herbivores, to attracting pollinators, not to mention the chemical processes involved in adapting to climate change.
The lowland forests of the Amazon rest on a hidden, underlying mosaic of geologic and hydrologic variation. It turns out that this mosaic affects the diversity of chemical functions that forest plants undertake, because the varying topography affects water, nutrients, and other plant resources. Understanding how the chemical activity of plants varies geographically is crucial to understanding the way an ecosystem functions on a large scale.
To figure it out, Asner and his team took a high-tech approach based on data collected from their Carnegie Airborne Observatory, or CAO, and developed the first high-resolution maps of the forest's canopy chemistry. A novel combination of instruments onboard the CAO, including a high-fidelity imaging spectrometer and a laser scanner, was used to map four huge forested landscapes along two Amazonian river systems. The instruments enabled the team to capture previously hidden chemical fingerprints of rainforest canopy species.
"This is the first time that so many chemicals have been measured and mapped in any forest ecosystem on Earth," Asner said. "No one has done the mapping we have achieved here, which enabled a discovery that the lowland Amazon is anything but monotonous or similar everywhere."
Their results reveal that the pattern of chemical properties in canopy trees changes along the paths of the two rivers--the Madre de Dios River and the Tambopata River--as well as across the landscape's topography on a 'microscale', with very small changes in elevation making all the difference to the plants living there. CAO's laser-guided spectroscopic mapping is unsurpassed in its ability to connect biological and geological processes. Studies of this kind help scientists to better understand the Earth's tremendous diversity and its geographic patterning, both of which are required to understand evolution or the future of species in a changing world.
"Looking at the lowland Amazon with this kind of detail, you can see back in time, from the way the topography was shaped millions of years ago, which still affects soils and mineral availability today, to the way that different species evolved to take advantage of this great variety of subtly changing conditions," Asner explained. "And we can peer into the future and see how quickly human activity is changing the kaleidoscope of diversity that has been uniquely shaped over millions of years."
This study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The Carnegie Airborne Observatory is made possible by the Avatar Alliance Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, W.M. Keck Foundation, M.A.N. Baker and G.L.Baker Jr., and W.R. Hearst III.
The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
Greg Asner | EurekAlert!
Funding of Collaborative Research Center developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy extended
28.06.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Zeolite catalysts pave the road to decentral chemical processes Confined space increases reactivity
28.06.2017 | Technische Universität München
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine