Climate change is changing rainforests

Dry phases affect species composition more than thought

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The tropical rainforests could also change their face due to climate change and the resulting precipitation patterns. A study now published in Nature shows that species distribution in these forests is directly dependent on soil moisture.


Of the humid tropical rainforests, one usually assumes that water is abundant there. Consequently, so far the conclusion, soil moisture plays only a subordinate role in the concert of the influencing factors, which determine the distribution of the different tree and shrub species. But this is not the case, as a study by biologist Bettina Engelbrecht from the University of Kaiserslautern and her colleagues shows.

For their study, the team examined the drought tolerance and local and regional distribution of 48 tree and shrub species along the Panama Isthmus. Along this strip, average rainfall increases from one end to the other. The researchers discovered for the first time that the species composition changed significantly with soil moisture. At the same time, however, it became clear that dry phases can also have a major impact on the composition of plant communities in these forests.

This finding is particularly revealing because it means that changes in soil moisture, such as those caused by global climate change or forest fragmentation, are likely to change the distribution, diversity and composition of tropical communities more than previously thought. display

The new findings also help to optimize vegetation climate models. These in turn allow for better predictions on how the composition, diversity and function of tropical forests are affected by changing precipitation patterns.

(University of Kaiserslautern, 04.05.2007 - NPO)