The researchers found that fragmented forests are more susceptible to the negative impacts of drought and fire and that drought leads to an increase in fuel such as leaves and branches. The findings are key, in part, because most climate change models have not included the impacts of fires on Amazonian forests.
"Basically, none of the models used to evaluate future Amazon forest health include fire, so most of these predictions grossly underestimate the amount of tree death and overestimate overall forest health," said Michael Coe, Woods Hole Research Center.
Fire as a forest management tool can contribute to an increase in severe fires because the resulting thinner canopy leads to dryer forest conditions. This lack of humidity does not dampen fires but does encourage airflow between fields and forests. Fragmented forests also have more edge space, which is susceptible to both fire and invasive grasses -- another potential fuel.
"These forests are tough and can take a lot, but if drought reaches a certain level, big trees begin to die," said Daniel Nepstad, Earth Innovation Institute, who also co-led the study. "We now know that severe drought also makes fires more intense, creating a second tree mortality threshold."
The researchers conclude in today's (April 14) issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that "efforts to end deforestation in the Amazon must be accompanied by programs and policies that reduce the accidental spread of land management fires into neighboring forests and effectively control forest fires when started."
The results are important because large portions of the Amazon forest already experience droughts and are susceptible to fire -- they are broken into smaller blocks by agriculture
|Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer|