Global tropical forests threatened by 2100

Aug 05, 2010
The green areas are the distribution of refugia from recent deforestation, logging, and moderate and severe climate impacts in the tropical humid forests of the world. Credit: Conservation Letters and Greg Asner

By 2100 only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals making up ecosystems in global, humid tropical forests may remain as we know them today, according to a new study led by Greg Asner at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. The research combined new deforestation and selective logging data with climate-change projections. It is the first study to consider these combined effects for all humid tropical forest ecosystems and can help conservationists pinpoint where their efforts will be most effective. The study is published in the August 5, 2010, issue of Conservation Letters.

"This is the first global compilation of projected ecosystem impacts for humid tropical forests affected by these combined forces," remarked Asner. "For those areas of the globe projected to suffer most from climate change, land managers could focus their efforts on reducing the pressure from deforestation, thereby helping species adjust to climate change, or enhancing their ability to move in time to keep pace with it. On the flip side, regions of the world where deforestation is projected to have fewer effects from climate change could be targeted for restoration."

Tropical forests hold more then half of all the plants and animal species on Earth. But the combined effect of climate change, forest clear cutting, and logging may force them to adapt, move, or die.

The scientists looked at land use and climate change by integrating global deforestation and logging maps from and high-resolution data with projected future vegetation changes from 16 different global climate models. They then ran scenarios on how different types of species could be geographically reshuffled by 2100.They used the reorganization of plant classes, such as tropical broadleaf evergreen trees, tropical drought deciduous trees, plus different kinds of grasses as surrogates for biodiversity changes.

For Central and South America, climate change could alter about two-thirds of the humid biodiversity—the variety and abundance of plants and animals in an ecosystem. Combining that scenario with current patterns of land-use change, and the Amazon Basin alone could see changes in biodiversity over 80% of the region.

Most of the changes in the Congo area likely to come from selective logging and climate change, which could negatively affect between 35% and 74% of that region. At the continental scale, about 70% of Africa's tropical forest biodiversity would likely be affected if current practices are not curtailed.

In Asia and the central and southern Pacific islands, deforestation and logging are the primary drivers of ecosystem changes. Model projections suggest that climate change might play a lesser role there than in Latin America or Africa. That said, the research showed that between 60% and 77% of the area is susceptible to biodiversity losses via massive ongoing land-use changes in the region.

"This study is the strongest evidence yet that the world's natural ecosystems will undergo profound changes—including severe alterations in their species composition—through the combined influence of and land use," remarked Daniel Nepstad, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. "Conservation of the world's biota, as we know it, will depend upon rapid, steep declines in greenhouse gas emissions."

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Provided by Carnegie Institution

4.3 /5 (4 votes)

Related Stories

New technology needed to monitor rain forest 'tsunami'

Jan 12, 2009

Human impact on tropical forest ecosystems has reached a "tsunami" stage, say scientists, and will require a new generation of sophisticated remote-sensing technology to monitor the changes. Speaking at a January 12, 2009 ...

Land conversion and climate threaten land birds

Jun 05, 2007

Land conversion and climate change have already had significant impacts on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.Using future land-cover projections from the recently completed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Walter ...

New climate treaty could put species at risk

Nov 16, 2009

Plans to be discussed at the forthcoming UN climate conference in Copenhagen to cut deforestation in developing countries could save some species from extinction but inadvertently increase the risk to others, scientists believe.

Recommended for you

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

11 hours ago

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

Dec 19, 2014

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 05, 2010
"By 2100 only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals making up ecosystems in global, humid tropical forests may remain as we know them today, . . ."

Is mankind really capable of stopping change?

Oliver K. Manuel
Starblade_Enkai
2.5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2010
More to the point, is "having a hospitable environment" actually a right?

We've lived through ice ages back when we were still in the stone age. I think it's safe to say as long as people take enough initiative, more advanced technology will help overcome the problems created by more primitive technology.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.