Author(s): Lewis SL
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Abstract Tropical forests are global epicentres of biodiversity and important modulators of the rate of climate change. Recent research on deforestation rates and ecological changes within intact forests, both areas of recent research and debate, are reviewed, and the implications for biodiversity (species loss) and climate change (via the global carbon cycle) addressed. Recent impacts have most likely been: (i) a large source of carbon to the atmosphere, and major loss of species, from deforestation and (ii) a large carbon sink within remaining intact forest, accompanied by accelerating forest dynamism and widespread biodiversity changes. Finally, I look to the future, suggesting that the current carbon sink in intact forests is unlikely to continue, and that the tropical forest biome may even become a large net source of carbon, via one or more of four plausible routes: changing photosynthesis and respiration rates, biodiversity changes in intact forest, widespread forest collapse via drought, and widespread forest collapse via fire. Each of these scenarios risks potentially dangerous positive feedbacks with the climate system that could dramatically accelerate and intensify climate change. Given that continued land-use change alone is already thought to be causing the sixth mass extinction event in Earth's history, should such feedbacks occur, the resulting biodiversity and societal consequences would be even more severe.
This article was published in Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
and referenced in Forest Research: Open Access