Forests changing more rapidly than expected

Shifts in species composition associated with environmental change and increased biomass have been identified

By Vani Manocha
Published: Tuesday 30 September 2014


While permafrost is killing forests in Canada, drought is responsible for vanishing of trees in Panama, southern India and Borneo. In the US, over-abundant deer eat trees while in Canada and Panama nitrogen pollution has changed soil chemistry.

A new report, released by the Smithsonian-led Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO) has revealed many such changes that forests worldwide are experiencing. 

“With 107 collaborators, we’ve published a major overview of what 59 forests in 24 countries, where we monitor nearly six million trees, teach us about forest responses to global change,” says Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, first author of the report and CTFS-ForestGEO ecosystem ecologist based at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The plot network now includes forests from Brazil to northern Canada, from Gabon to England and from Papua New Guinea to China.

The report adds that since the censuses began at the first site on Barro Colorado Island in Panama in 1981, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 16 per cent and the forest sites in the network have warmed by an average of over one degree Fahrenheit or 0.6 degree Celsius.

According to the study, climate change scenarios predict that most of these sites will face warmer and often drier conditions in the future—some experiencing novel climates with no modern analogs. Forests are changing more rapidly than expected by chance alone, and shifts in species composition have been associated with environmental change. Biomass has increased at many tropical sites across the network. 

“We look forward to using the CTFS-ForestGEO network to continue to understand how and why forests respond to change, and what this means for the climate, biodiversity conservation and human well-being,” says Stuart Davies, network director. 


CTFS-ForestGEO: a worldwide network monitoring forests in an era of global change

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