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 Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

nachricht 100 % Organic Farming in Bhutan – a Realistic Target?
15.06.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

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: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>