Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract CO2 concentration is increasing, temperature is likely to rise, and precipitation patterns might change. Of these potential climatic shifts, it is precipitation that will have the most impact on tropical forests, and seasonal patterns of rainfall and drought will probably be more important than the total quantity of precipitation. Many tree species are limited in distribution by their inability to survive drought. In a 50 ha forest plot at Barro Colorado Island in Panama (BCI), nearly all tree and shrub species associated with moist microhabitats are declining in abundance due to a decline in rainfall and lengthening dry seasons. This information forms the basis for a simple, general prediction: drying trends can rapidly remove drought-sensitive species from a forest. If the drying trend continues at BCI, the invasion of drought-tolerant species would be anticipated, but computer models predict that it could take 500 or more years for tree species to invade and become established. Predicting climate-induced changes in tropical forest also requires geographic information on tree distribution relative to precipitation patterns. In central Panama, species with the most restricted ranges are those from areas with a short dry season (10–14 weeks): 26–39% of the tree species in these wet regions do not occur where it is drier. In comparison, just 11–19% of species from the drier side of Panama (18 week dry season) are restricted to the dry region. From this information, I predict that a four-week extension of the dry season could eliminate 25% of the species locally; a nine-week extension in very wet regions could cause 40% extinction. Since drier forests are more deciduous than wetter forests, satellite images that monitor deciduousness might provide a way to assess long-term forest changes caused by changes in drought patterns. I predict that increasing rainfall and shorter dry seasons would not cause major extinction in tropical forest, but that drying trends are a much greater concern. Longer dry seasons may cause considerable local extinction of tree species and rapid forest change, and they will also tend to exacerbate direct human damage, which tends to favor drought-adapted and invasive tree species in favor of moisture-demanding ones.
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