Changes in the potential distribution of humid tropical forests on a warmer planet

Zelazowski, Przemyslaw; Malhi, Yadvinder; Huntingford, Chris ORCID:; Sitch, Stephen; Fisher, Joshua B.. 2011 Changes in the potential distribution of humid tropical forests on a warmer planet. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, A, 369. 137-160.

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The future of tropical forests has become one of the iconic issues in climate-change science. A number of studies that have explored this subject have tended to focus on the output from one or a few climate models, which work at low spatial resolution, whereas society and conservation-relevant assessment of potential impacts requires a finer scale. This study focuses on the role of climate on the current and future distribution of humid tropical forests (HTFs). We first characterize their contemporary climatological niche using annual rainfall and maximum climatological water stress, which also adequately describe the current distribution of other biomes within the tropics. As a first-order approximation of the potential extent of HTFs in future climate regimes defined by global warming of 2°C and 4°C, we investigate changes in the niche through a combination of climate-change anomaly patterns and higher resolution (5 km) maps of current climatology. The climate anomalies are derived using data from 17 coupled Atmosphere–Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) used in the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Our results confirm some risk of forest retreat, especially in eastern Amazonia, Central America and parts of Africa, but also indicate a potential for expansion in other regions, for example around the Congo Basin. The finer spatial scale enabled the depiction of potential resilient and vulnerable zones with practically useful detail. We further refine these estimates by considering the impact of new environmental regimes on plant water demand using the UK Met Office land-surface scheme (of the HadCM3 AOGCM). The CO2-related reduction in plant water demand lowers the risk of die-back and can lead to possible niche expansion in many regions. The analysis presented here focuses primarily on hydrological determinants of HTF extent. We conclude by discussing the role of other factors, notably the physiological effects of higher temperature.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biogeochemistry > BGC Topic 2 - Biogeochemistry and Climate System Processes > BGC - 2.3 - Determine land-climate feedback processes to improve climate model predictions
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Harding (to July 2011)
ISSN: 1364-503X
Additional Keywords: tropical forests, climate change, climate patterns, water stress, maximum climatological water deficit, carbon dioxide
NORA Subject Terms: Botany
Meteorology and Climatology
Atmospheric Sciences
Date made live: 10 Feb 2011 11:36 +0 (UTC)

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