Simulated resilience of tropical rainforests to CO2-induced climate change

Abstract

How tropical forest carbon stocks might alter in response to changes in climate and atmospheric composition is uncertain. However, assessing potential future carbon loss from tropical forests is important for evaluating the efficacy of programmes for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. Uncertainties are associated with different carbon stock responses in models with different representations of vegetation processes on the one hand1,2,3, and differences in projected changes in temperature and precipitation patterns on the other hand4,5. Here we present a systematic exploration of these sources of uncertainty, along with uncertainty arising from different emissions scenarios for all three main tropical forest regions: the Americas (that is, Amazonia and Central America), Africa and Asia. Using simulations with 22 climate models and the MOSES–TRIFFID land surface scheme, we find that only in one 5 of the simulations are tropical forests projected to lose biomass by the end of the twenty-first century—and then only for the Americas. When comparing with alternative models of plant physiological processes1,2, we find that the largest uncertainties are associated with plant physiological responses, and then with future emissions scenarios. Uncertainties from differences in the climate projections are significantly smaller. Despite the considerable uncertainties, we conclude that there is evidence of forest resilience for all three regions.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Map of tropical forest.
Figure 2: Biomass change.
Figure 3: Sensitivity of changes in biomass of Americas to different climate model drivers.
Figure 4: Contributions of model uncertainties.

References

  1. 1

    Sitch, S. et al. Evaluation of the terrestrial carbon cycle, future plant geography and climate-carbon cycle feedbacks using five dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs). Glob. Change Biol. 14, 2015–2039 (2008).

  2. 2

    Booth, B. B. B. et al. High sensitivity of future global warming to land carbon cycle processes. Environ. Res. Lett. 7, 024002 (2012).

  3. 3

    Galbraith, D. et al. Multiple mechanisms of Amazonian forest biomass losses in three dynamic global vegetation models under climate change. New Phytol. 187, 647–665 (2010).

  4. 4

    Rammig, A. et al. Estimating the risk of Amazonian forest dieback. New Phytol. 187, 694–706 (2010).

  5. 5

    Cox, P. M., Betts, R. A., Jones, C. D., Spall, S. A. & Totterdell, I. J. Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model. Nature 408, 184–187 (2000).

  6. 6

    Pan, Y. et al. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests. Science 333, 988–993 (2011).

  7. 7

    Beer, C. et al. Terrestrial gross carbon dioxide uptake: Global distribution and covariation with climate. Science 329, 834–838 (2010).

  8. 8

    Gardner, T. A. et al. Prospects for tropical forest biodiversity in a human-modified world. Ecol. Lett. 12, 561–582 (2009).

  9. 9

    Malhi, Y. et al. Exploring the likelihood and mechanism of a climate-change-induced dieback of the Amazon rainforest. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 20610–20615 (2009).

  10. 10

    Zelazowski, P., Malhi, Y., Huntingford, C., Sitch, S. & Fisher, J. B. Changes in the potential distribution of humid tropical forests on a warmer planet. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 137–160 (2011).

  11. 11

    Gumpenberger, M. et al. Predicting pan-tropical climate change induced forest stock gains and losses-implications for REDD. Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 014013 (2010).

  12. 12

    Phillips, O. L. et al. Drought sensitivity of the Amazon rainforest. Science 323, 1344–1347 (2009).

  13. 13

    Lewis, S. L. et al. Increasing carbon storage in intact African tropical forests. Nature 457, 1003-U1003 (2009).

  14. 14

    Huntingford, C. et al. IMOGEN: An intermediate complexity model to evaluate terrestrial impacts of a changing climate. Geosci. Model Dev. 3, 679–687 (2010).

  15. 15

    Gloor, M. et al. Does the disturbance hypothesis explain the biomass increase in basin-wide Amazon forest plot data? Glob. Change Biol. 15, 2418–2430 (2009).

  16. 16

    Jones, C., Lowe, J., Liddicoat, S. & Betts, R. Committed terrestrial ecosystem changes due to climate change. Nature Geosci. 2, 484–487 (2009).

  17. 17

    Lloyd, J. & Farquhar, G. D. Effects of rising temperatures and [CO2] on the physiology of tropical forest trees. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 363, 1811–1817 (2008).

  18. 18

    Huntingford, C. et al. Highly contrasting effects of different climate forcing agents on terrestrial ecosystem services. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 2026–2037 (2011).

  19. 19

    Scholze, M., Knorr, W., Arnell, N. W. & Prentice, I. C. A climate-change risk analysis for world ecosystems. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 103, 13116–13120 (2006).

  20. 20

    Norby, R. J., Warren, J. M., Iversen, C. M., Medlyn, B. E. & McMurtrie, R. E. CO(2) enhancement of forest productivity constrained by limited nitrogen availability. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 19368–19373 (2010).

  21. 21

    Quesada, C. A. et al. Basin-wide variations in Amazon forest structure and function are mediated by both soils and climate. Biogeosciences 9, 2203–2246 (2012).

  22. 22

    Mercado, L. M. et al. Variations in Amazon forest productivity correlated with foliar nutrients and modelled rates of photosynthetic carbon supply. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 366, 3316–3329 (2011).

  23. 23

    Lloyd, J. in Global Biogeochemical Cycles in the Climate System (eds Schulze, E. D. et al.) (Academic, 2001).

  24. 24

    Tjoelker, M. G., Oleksyn, J. & Reich, P. B. Modelling respiration of vegetation: Evidence for a general temperature-dependent Q(10). Glob. Change Biol. 7, 223–230 (2001).

  25. 25

    Huntingford, C. et al. Using a GCM analogue model to investigate the potential for Amazonian forest dieback. Theor. Appl. Climatol. 78, 177–185 (2004).

  26. 26

    Atkin, O. K. & Tjoelker, M. G. Thermal acclimation and the dynamic response of plant respiration to temperature. Trends Plant Sci. 8, 343–351 (2003).

  27. 27

    Medlyn, B. E., Loustau, D. & Delzon, S. Temperature response of parameters of a biochemically based model of photosynthesis. I. Seasonal changes in mature maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Ait.). Plant Cell Environ. 25, 1155–1165 (2002).

  28. 28

    Marengo, J. A. et al. The drought of Amazonia in 2005. J. Clim. 21, 495–516 (2008).

  29. 29

    Clark, D. B. et al. The joint UK land environment simulator (JULES), model description—part 2: Carbon fluxes and vegetation dynamics. Geosci. Model Dev. 4, 701–722 (2011).

  30. 30

    Huntingford, C. & Cox, P. M. An analogue model to derive additional climate change scenarios from existing GCM simulations. Clim. Dynam. 16, 575–586 (2000).

Download references

Acknowledgements

C.H., P.Z. and L.M.M. thank the CEH Science Budget for support during this analysis. All authors gratefully recognize the many hundreds of people who have developed the climate models contributing to the CMIP3 database. C.H., L.M.M., S.S., S.L.L., E.G., O.L.P. and J.L. acknowledge the UK NERC QUEST, TROBIT and AMAZONICA (NE/F005806/1) initiatives. D.G. acknowledges support from the Moore Foundation. O.K.A., P.M. and J.L. all acknowledge funding from the NERC-UK (NE/F002149/1 and NE/G008531) grants and the ARC-Australia (DP0986823 and DP1093759) grants. C.D.J., B.B.B.B., D.H., G.K., P.G. and R.B. acknowledge joint DECC and Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme funding (Ref: DECC/Defra GA01101.) C.N. and J.M. acknowledge support from the Brazilian Research Council CNPq and the Sao Paulo State Research Foundation FAPESP (2008/58107-7). O.L.P. S.L.L. and Y.M. are supported by the European Research Council. S.L.L. acknowledges support from the Royal Society.

Author information

C.H. designed the overall paper; P.Z. built the climate patterns; D.G. and L.M.M. created the sensitivity framework; S.S., R.F., C.D.J., R.B., Y.M., P.G. and P.P.H. provided climate-change and ecosystem expertise, and aided with the context placing of this analysis in terms of existing literature on tropical-forest/climate-change interactions; M.L. and B.B.B.B. helped with IMOGEN development; A.P.W., D.H., O.K.A., J.L., E.G., J.Z-C. and P.M. built the discussion of remaining questions in physiological responses; G.K. provided information on REDD, S.L.L. and O.L.P. provided the Amazon and Africa inventory data and C.N. and J.M. updated on Brazilian research. B.B.B.B. provided diagnostics from the PPE, S.S. provided diagnostics from the DGVM-intercomparison study and P.M.C. aided with the uncertainty analysis and overall conclusions. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Chris Huntingford.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 848 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Huntingford, C., Zelazowski, P., Galbraith, D. et al. Simulated resilience of tropical rainforests to CO2-induced climate change. Nature Geosci 6, 268–273 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1741

Download citation

Further reading