Biodiversity May Thwart Some Climate Change

     (CN) — While environmental changes from global warming make it difficult for scientists to determine how various ecosystems will adapt, the diversity of the Amazon’s forests may be the key to how well it adjusts.
     In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers suggest more diverse forests are better at adapting to changing environmental and climate conditions.
     The team used a model that simulates tree growth in the Amazon. They found that as climate change causes some trees to die off, other plants in the forest grow in to take their place. These plants would be capable of surviving under the new conditions.
     In these scenarios, the forest’s ecosystem changes, but not so much that it prevents the recovery of some of the vegetation it had before.
     “Plant trait diversity may enable the Amazon forests to adjust to some level of climate change — certain trees dominate today could decrease and their place will be taken by others which are better suited for the new climate conditions in the future,” said lead author Boris Sakschewski.
     Past models have often been used to predict how the Amazon might react to future climate change, which is expected to bring increased drought and higher temperatures in some regions, additional flooding in others and more extreme weather events in general.
     However, these studies have not always presented the most detailed information on the Amazon’s vegetation — and researchers are continuing to find nuances and factors that adjust the findings of their models.
     Sakschewski said that models often grouped collections of similar plants together into a few large groups, which failed to consider unique characteristics of the various species.
     The team expanded on one such vegetation model by creating an updated version that can simulate the growth of individual trees and their different characteristics. The researchers then ran a series of simulations with the new model and several older versions to determine whether the added nuances would make a difference in project forest responses under a host of future climate scenarios.
     Their findings showed that more diverse forests in the updated model were more capable of recovering under such potential conditions, though none of the models presented an especially positive outlook for Amazon forests if current climate change trends maintain.
     The level of stress will also play a significant role in determining the fate of Amazon forests.
     Biodiversity only contributes to substantial recovery in large areas across the Amazon region after a few hundred years, and only in a scenario of moderate climate change. About 80 percent of the Amazon area would show substantial growth under these conditions, according to the study.
     In a scenario that includes a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions leading to significant climate change, less than 20 percent of the area would show this positive effect.
     “While it is well known that biodiversity is relevant for ecosystem productivity and biomass storage, up to now it could not be shown in a large-scale quantitative way,” said Kirsten Thonicke, team leader from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and co-author of the study.
     “We’re glad to advance previous research by closing this important gap.”

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