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Climate, exploitation pose synergistic threat to rainforests -- study

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012

Future work to protect the world's rainforests will need to focus on the nexus between human activity and climatic stress, according to a new study published in the journal Trends in Ecology.

Because the natural and man-made threats to forests can compound each other -- for example, drought can exacerbate the prevalence and severity of human-induced forest fires -- researchers call such impacts "synergistic," meaning their combined effect is more severe than either considered in isolation.

"Viewing climate change and tropical deforestation as unrelated issues will prevent us from addressing either one as efficiently as if we were to also consider the interactions between them," said University of Montana professor Jedediah Brodie, lead author of the study.

"Not all tropical forests are going to dry out and warm up, but for those that do, we need to worry about more frequent and intense human-caused fires, as well as increasing accessibility to loggers and hunters," he added.

Rainforests are of particular concern because they are not adapted to recover quickly from fires. However, widespread burning has become increasingly common in many regions due to longer dry seasons and hotter summers.

The Amazon rainforest has seen two extreme droughts in the past decade alone. Scientists have long warned that the combination of drought and ongoing deforestation could flip half the Amazon from forest ecosystem to savanna.

The study recommends creating new protected areas within forests, and expanding existing protections with special consideration for areas likely to be most stressed by climate in the coming decades. Brodie also recommended ending agricultural subsidies that support deforestation (Jeremy Hance,, March 13). -- NM

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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