Tropical rainforests are differently vulnerable

The rainforest in the amazon basin respond stronger to deforestation and climate change than the forest in the Konge basin

August 30, 2021

A map now reveals, how sensitive rainforests in different regions are to drought, heat and deforestation. The corresponding index, which researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena were involved in creating, shows where forests are particularly susceptible to these changes and provides early warning signals for regions that are in a phase of critical transition.

Humid tropical rain forests around the globe play a dominant role in the Earth system. They improve water filtration, provide biodiversity habitats and critically regulate the cycling of water and carbon. Rainforests are mostly endangered by a hotter and drier climate as well as by large-scale deforestation from wildfires and for agricultural and timber production.

The vulnerability of rainforests has in the past been measured with indicators from mostly local studies. In their novel approach, published in the journal One Earth recently, a large international researcher team now combined satellite data from the past decades, including climate and vegetation datasets, to analyze rainforest vulnerability on a global scale. With their unique tropical rainforest vulnerability indicator (TFVI), the researchers established a continuously updated tool to track the response of tropical rainforests to multiple stressors.

The Amazon rainforest is particularly vulnerable to droughts and deforestation

As first surprising results, it became evident that different tropical regions react differently to similar climate stressors, with some being more resilient than others. Also, rainforests at different continents differ in their sensitivity to climate and land use pressures. For example, the Amazon Basin shows particularly high vulnerability to both droughts and land-use change such as deforestation for agriculture, when compared to the Congo Basin. 

“The data from TFVI will provide a first and fast instance on risk and vulnerability, allowing us to further focus on key processes relevant for rainforest’s carbon storage and productivity, energy and water exchanges” says Nuno Carvalhais, coauthor and group leader at Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany. Such spatially explicit analyses will be crucial for identifying potential tipping points for each rainforest, which may occur as a gradual decline of ecosystem services or as an abrupt change. By tracking the rainforest responses to stressors, the TFVI index can provide early warning signals for threatened regions, in order to stimulate measures aimed at increasing resilience and climate mitigation.    

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