Tropical Forest Blossoms Are Sensitive to Changing Climate

Tropical Forest Bloosoms

Until recently, scientific thinking used to posit that tropical forests, which already exist in warm climates, may not be impacted much by climate change. But a new study conducted by the NCEAS Working Group - Forecasting Phenology: Integrating Ecology, Climatology, and Phylogeny to Understand Plant Responses to Climate Change - shows that to be erroneous. In fact, the results indicate that tropical forests are producing more flowers in response to only slight increases in temperature. The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Tropical forests are commonly thought of as the lungs of the Earth and how many flowers they produce is one vital sign of their health,” said Stephanie Pau, who conducted the research as part of a Forecasting Phenology Working Group while she was a postdoctoral associate at NCEAS.

The study, which used a new globally gridded satellite dataset, examined how changes in temperature, clouds, and rainfall affect the number of flowers tropical forests produce. Analysis of the data indicated that clouds mainly have an effect on short-term seasonal growth, but longer-term changes in these forests appear to be due to temperature. While other studies have used long-term flower production data, this is the first study to combine these data with direct estimates of cloud cover based on satellite information.

“This study is an inspired example of integrating diverse existing data to do something never imagined when the data were originally collected,” explained Stephanie Hampton, deputy director of NCEAS.

Clouds and temperature drive dynamic changes in tropical flower production
Stephanie Pau, Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, Benjamin I. Cook, Christopher J. Nytch, James Regetz,
Jess K. Zimmerman & S. Joseph Wright
Nature Climate Change Article, July 2013

UCSB News Release

A sample of media coverage of this study:
    Nature World News: Tropical Forests Sensitive to Global Warming: A Study Rising temperatures are triggering rainforest trees to produce more flowers

Working Group:
    Forecasting Phenology: Integrating Ecology, Climatology, and
    Phylogeny to Understand Plant Responses to Climate Change 

    Principal Investigator(s): Benjamin I. Cook and Elizabeth M. Wolkovich

The forest canopy from Barro Colorado Island, Panama
showing Tabebuia guayacan in bloom (yellow flowers).
Photo Credit: S. Joseph Wright"



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Posted on July 6, 2013