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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. For. Glob. Change | doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2019.00047

Climate benefits of intact Amazon forests and the biophysical consequences of disturbance

  • 1Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, School of Earth and Environment, Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Tropical forests have an important regulating influence on local and regional climate, through modulating the exchange of moisture and energy between the land and the atmosphere. Deforestation disrupts this exchange, though the climatic consequences of progressive, patch-scale deforestation of formerly intact forested landscapes have not previously been assessed. Remote sensing datasets of land surface and atmospheric variables were used to compare the climate responses of Amazon evergreen broadleaf forests that lost their intact status between 2000 and 2013. Clear gradients in environmental change with increasing disturbance were observed. Leaf area index (LAI) showed progressively stronger reductions as forest loss increased, with evapotranspiration (ET) showing a comparative decline. These changes in LAI and ET were related to changes in temperature (T), with increased warming as deforestation increased. Severe deforestation of intact Amazon forest, defined as areas where canopy cover was reduced below 70 %, was shown to have increased daytime land surface T by 0.44 °C over the study period. Differences between intact and disturbed forests were most pronounced during the dry season, with severely deforested areas warming as much as 1.5 °C. Maintenance of canopy cover was identified as an important factor in minimising the impacts of disturbance. Overall, the results highlight the climate benefits provided by intact tropical forests, providing further evidence that protecting intact forests is of utmost importance.

Keywords: Intact Forest Landscapes, deforestation, Leaf area index (LAI), evapotranspiration (ET), temperature, precipitation

Received: 14 Dec 2018; Accepted: 08 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Yadvinder Malhi, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Jose A. Marengo, Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (CEMADEN), Brazil
Sami W. Rifai, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2019 Baker and Spracklen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jessica Baker, Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, School of Earth and Environment, Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, United Kingdom, j.c.baker@leeds.ac.uk