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Current Affairs

Dry tropical forests at more risk than wet rainforests

Date: 05 July 2020 Tags: Climate Change

Issue

Dry tropical forests are more vulnerable to the impacts of global heating than had been thought, according to new research by scientists.

 

Background

Some tropical forests are very wet, but others thrive in a drier climate and scientists had thought these drier forests would be better adapted to drought, and therefore more able to cope with the effects of the climate crisis.

 

Details

  • The new study suggests that forests with an already drier climate show greater loss of biodiversity, and a reduced ability to support a wide variety of wildlife and plant species when subjected to warmer temperatures. Wetter forests, with year-round rainfall, show less change in biodiversity.

  • The researchers examined both wet and dry tropical forests in West Africa. Dry forests appear to be already on the verge of a tipping point, whereby further years of hot and dry conditions could cause a rapid transformation.

  • Wetter forests may be better able to withstand prolonged hotter and drier spells because of the greater reserves of moisture in their tree trunks and soils, but scientists do not know how long they may stay resilient.

  • Deforestation is growing rapidly in Africa, putting more of the world’s vital carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots under threat. The findings should aid conservation efforts aimed at protecting the world’s remaining heavily forested areas.

  • Drier forests are becoming more homogeneous, in their function and composition, and that may mean forests are going to be less able to carry out their functions and they will not have so many species.

  • While wetter rainforests better fit most people’s conception of what tropical forests are like, drier forests are also home to a wide range of plants and wildlife. 

  • Other recent studies have found that many of the world’s forests are becoming so degraded by human activities, and damaged by worsening climate change, that they could cease acting as carbon sinks.