Plant diversity is a key factor to the resilience of Amazon forests

Published on
September 9, 2016

Climate change threatens ecosystems worldwide, yet their potential future resilience remains largely unquantified. In a new study an international group of researchers, including Lourens Poorter and Marielos Peña-Claros from Wageningen University, shows that plant trait diversity is a key factor for the resilience of Amazonian forests to climate change. The policy implication is that biodiversity conservation is extremely important for the resilience of the Amazon.

In recent years many studies have shown that biodiversity, and in particular the diversity of plant characteristics (“functional diversity”), can enhance ecosystem resilience by providing a higher response diversity. “So far these insights have been mostly neglected in large-scale projections of ecosystem responses to climate change,” Lourens Poorter says. “In our study, however, we show that plant trait diversity can have a strikingly positive effect on the Amazon forests’ biomass under future climate change. Using a global dynamic vegetation model that simulates diverse forest communities on the basis of individual tree growth, we show that plant trait diversity may enable the Amazon forests to adjust to new climate conditions via a process of ecological sorting, protecting the Amazon’s carbon sink function.”

The researchers published their findings in Nature Climate Change. The paper is an output of the EU-financed ROBIN project, in which also Wageningen University and Alterra are involved. Lead author is Boris Sakschewski from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In a very elegant analysis the authors show that biodiversity matters for the resilience of Amazonian forest. Increased future temperature and drought may potentially lead to a decline in forest biomass, but because of the presence of a high number of tree species, other tree species that are better adapted to a future drier climate take over, become dominant, and restore forest biomass.

Lourens Poorter: “Therefore, plant trait diversity, and biodiversity in general, should be considered in large-scale ecosystem projections and be included as an integral part of climate change policy. Furthermore global vegetation models should include biodiversity better, as this leads to fundamentally different predictions about the effects of climate change.”

Click here for ‘Resilience of Amazon forests emerges from plant trait diversity’.