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Temperature record of the past 1000 years

“Considering the vital importance of the Amazon rainforest for our climate and biodiversity, it is astounding how much we still don’t know about its ability to adapt to changing environments through the ages,” lead author Catrin Ciemer from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says. With ongoing global warming there will probably be a higher frequency of droughts in the Amazon basin, which might increase tree mortality and fire risks. “We set to uncover a mechanism that increases the ecosystem’s resilience. It turns out that regions of the Amazon rainforest that were exposed to more variable rainfall conditions seem to be equipped with a higher ability to resist to and recover from climatic disturbances.”

Mapping out more vulnerable regions by combining nonlinear dynamics analysis with state-of-the-art observations

Covering about two thirds of South America, the Amazon rainforest is the largest continuous rainforest on earth, with an unparalleled biodiversity of plants and animals. Vast amounts of carbon are stored in the forest’s biomass, making the Amazon rainforest the most important terrestrial CO2 sink. Based on precipitation and tree cover data in the Brazilian Amazon basin, the researchers constructed so-called potential landscapes to characterize the rainfall regimes where the ecosystems remain stable, and identify critical thresholds beyond which vegetation might switch from forest to savanna.