The Azimuth Project
Tropical rainforest

Contents

Idea

As Wikipedia states:

A tropical rainforest is a place roughly within 28 degrees north or south of the equator. They are found in Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and on many of the Pacific Islands. Within the World Wildlife Fund’s biome classification, tropical rainforests are thought to be a type of tropical wet forest (or tropical moist broadleaf forest) and may also be referred to as lowland equatorial evergreen rainforest. Minimum normal annual rainfall between 175 cm (69 in) and 200 cm (79 in) occurs in this climate region. Mean monthly temperatures exceed 18 °C (64 °F) during all months of the year. Rainforests are home to half of all the living animal and plant species on the planet.

extent of tropical rainforest

Details

The undergrowth in a rainforest is restricted in many areas by the lack of sunlight at ground level. This makes it possible for people and other animals to walk through the forest. If the leaf canopy is destroyed or thinned for any reason, the ground beneath is soon colonized by a dense tangled growth of vines, shrubs and small trees called a jungle. Tropical rainforests are currently fragmenting due to human activity. Habitat fragmentation caused by geological processes such as volcanism and climate change have occurred in the past, and have been identified as drivers of speciation. However, fast human driven habits destruction is suspected as being one of the major causes of species extinction.

See Sahna et. al in the References section, for more details on the latter claims.

Research

Yadvinder Mahli et. al studies thresholds for alternative states - tipping points, temperature increase and also human impact that may enable the transition to an alternative state. The latter is found to be seasonable forest and concludes:

The dieback of the forests of E. Amazonia in the 21st century is far from inevitable but remains a distinct possibility. The first priority (and ultimate responsibility) in minimizing the risk of this dieback is reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions. However, appropriate adaptation measures and forest management with E. Amazonia could play a major role in minimizing the prospects of large-scale forest degradation while also contributing to the global mitigation effort. Even with sufficient funds and willpower, the implementation of biosphere management on such a scale will be a substantial challenge and understanding of the social, political, and economic context will be critically important (36). The prospect of navigating much of Amazonia away from a tipping point makes this a challenge worth facing up to.

Richard Corlett has looked at the between the Tropical rainforest warming and both natural and human(anthropogenic) causes. From the natural ones he has looked at the connection between El Nino Southern Oscillation - ENSO - and there is a large causality between them in the form of biomass vulnerability.

References

Some model experiments predict a large-scale substitution of Amazon forest by savannah-like vegetation by the end of the twenty-first century. Expanding global demands for biofuels and grains, positive feedbacks in the Amazon forest fire regime and drought may drive a faster process of forest degradation that could lead to a near-term forest dieback. Rising worldwide demands for biofuel and meat are creating powerful new incentives for agro-industrial expansion into Amazon forest regions. Forest fires, drought and logging increase susceptibility to further burning while deforestation and smoke can inhibit rainfall, exacerbating fire risk. If sea surface temperature anomalies (such as El Niño episodes) and associated Amazon droughts of the last decade continue into the future, approximately 55% of the forests of the Amazon will be cleared, logged, damaged by drought or burned over the next 20 years, emitting 15–26 Pg of carbon to the atmosphere. Several important trends could prevent a near-term dieback. As fire-sensitive investments accumulate in the landscape, property holders use less fire and invest more in fire control. Commodity markets are demanding higher environmental performance from farmers and cattle ranchers. Protected areas have been established in the pathway of expanding agricultural frontiers. Finally, emerging carbon market incentives for reductions in deforestation could support these trends.

Abstract: Before the end of this century, tropical rainforests will be subject to climatic conditions that have not existed anywhere on Earth for millions of years. These forests are the most species-rich ecosystems in the world and play a crucial role in regulating carbon and water feedbacks in the global climate system; therefore, it is important that the probable impacts of anthropogenic climate change are understood. However, the recent literature shows a striking range of views on the vulnerability of tropical rainforests, from least to most concern among major ecosystems. This review, which focuses on the impact of rising temperatures, examines the evidence for and against high vulnerability, identifies key research needs for resolving current differences and suggests ways of mitigating or adapting to potential impacts.

We examine the evidence for the possibility that 21st-century climate change may cause a large-scale “dieback” or degradation of Amazonian rainforest. We employ a new framework for evaluating the rainfall regime of tropical forests and from this deduce precipitation-based boundaries for current forest viability. We then examine climate simulations by 19 global climate models (GCMs) in this context and find that most tend to underestimate current rainfall. GCMs also vary greatly in their projections of future climate change in Amazonia. We attempt to take into account the differences between GCM-simulated and observed rainfall regimes in the 20th century. Our analysis suggests that dry-season water stress is likely to increase in E. Amazonia over the 21st century, but the region tends toward a climate more appropriate to seasonal forest than to savanna.

These seasonal forests may be resilient to seasonal drought but are likely to face intensified water stress caused by higher temperatures and to be vulnerable to fires, which are at present naturally rare in much of Amazonia. The spread of fire ignition associated with advancing deforestation, logging, and fragmentation may act as nucleation points that trigger the transition of these seasonal forests into fire-dominated, low biomass forests. Conversely, deliberate limitation of deforestation and fire may be an effective intervention to maintain Amazonian forest resilience in the face of imposed 21st-century climate change. Such intervention may be enough to navigate E. Amazonia away from a possible “tipping point,” beyond which extensive rainforest would become unsustainable.

Abstract: Amazon forests are a key but poorly understood component of the global carbon cycle. If, as anticipated, they dry this century, they might accelerate climate change through carbon losses and changed surface energy balances. We used records from multiple long-term monitoring plots across Amazonia to assess forest responses to the intense 2005 drought, a possible analog of future events. Affected forest lost biomass, reversing a large long-term carbon sink, with the greatest impacts observed where the dry season was unusually intense. Relative to pre-2005 conditions, forest subjected to a 100-millimeter increase in water deficit lost 5.3 megagrams of aboveground biomass of carbon per hectare. The drought had a total biomass carbon impact of 1.2 to 1.6 petagrams (1.2 × 1015 to 1.6 × 1015 grams). Amazon forests therefore appear vulnerable to increasing moisture stress, with the potential for large carbon losses to exert feedback on climate change.

Abstract: Abrupt collapse of the tropical rainforest biome (Coal Forests) drove rapid diversification of Carboniferous tetrapods (amphibians and reptiles) in Euramerica. This finding is based on analysis of global and alpha diversity databases in a precise geologic context. From Visean to Moscovian time, both diversity measures steadily increased, but following rainforest collapse in earliest Kasimovian time (ca. 305 Ma), tetrapod extinction rate peaked, alpha diversity imploded, and endemism developed for the first time. Analysis of ecological diversity shows that rainforest collapse was also accompanied by acquisition of new feeding strategies (predators, herbivores), consistent with tetrapod adaptation to the effects of habitat fragmentation and resource restriction. Effects on amphibians were particularly devastating, while amniotes (‘reptiles’) fared better, being ecologically adapted to the drier conditions that followed. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that Coal Forest fragmentation influenced profoundly the ecology and evolution of terrestrial fauna in tropical Euramerica, and illustrate the tight coupling that existed between vegetation, climate, and trophic webs.

category: ecology, climate