Droughts and fires have released massive amounts of carbon from one of the most biodiverse forests on Earth all while killing untold billions of animals and plants.
The 2015-16 El Niño caused an extreme drought that was a contributing factor in massive fires in the Amazon, killing roughly 2.5 billion trees and other plants, touching on only about 1.2% of the Amazon. In this relatively small portion of the forest, 495 million tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere.
Typically, the Amazon is too wet for much of it to burn, but the drought made the now drier forest vulnerable.
The research comes from an international team of researchers who have been working on the project for eight years. The findings do not bode well for the future. The researchers found that plants continued to die at high rates years after the end of the drought, showing that drier spells can have serious long term consequences. Fires also have a greater negative impact on the Amazon rainforest, a habitat that did not evolve with fire as did many forests in North America and elsewhere.
The experts found that secondary forests had higher declines than the mature primary forests. This shows how disturbance of the forest is long term, even if the forest is allowed to recover. The research emphasizes the need to reduce illegal logging as much as possible for the survival of the Amazon region as well as for the Earth as a whole.
Unfortunately, droughts are expected to increase with the advent of climate change, meaning impacts from wildfires and humans will become amplified as drier rainforests will become more and more vulnerable. This hurts not only the Amazon, one of the world’s most magical places but also allows for the release of even more carbon from destroyed forest.
“The results highlight the need for action across different scales,” said principal investigator Professor Jos Barlow of Lancaster University.
Internationally, we need action to tackle climate change, which is making extreme droughts and fires more likely. At the local level, forests will suffer fewer negative consequences from fires if they are protected from degradation.”
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com Staff Writer