Tropical African rainforests can resist climate change better than originally thought

By Agency

North of Arusha, Tanzania, across the roadless Aimanjiro Plains in the ancient homeland of the Masai, a pair of armed hunter gatherers and Masai guides lead a woman and group through the bush tracking footprints of wild lions. Photo: AFP

A new study conducted in six African countries suggests that the tropical forests of this continent could be more resilient than others. While this is good news, it could be temporary if the level of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere does not decrease.

Those who experienced the El Niño climate event firsthand between 2015-2016 probably remember the intense heat events it caused in Latin America and Africa. But according to this new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tropical forests in Africa may have fared better.

The research involved monitoring 100 tropical forests located in Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and the Republic of Congo. Each of the plots was measured at least twice before and then once after the El Niño event that occurred between 2015 and 2016.

According to the study, these forests are estimated to have continued removing about 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. That's a rate equivalent to three times of Britain's carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, the study says.

"Overall, the uptake of carbon dioxide by these intact rainforests reduced by 36%, but they continued to function as a carbon sink, slowing the rate of climate change," noted Dr Amy Bennett, researcher at Leeds' School of Geography and study lead author.

According to the researchers' estimates, the tropical forests of Africa have greater capacities of resilience than the forests of Amazonia (South America) and Borneo (South-East Asia). While the growth and survival of small trees in African forests have been affected by the extreme heat waves caused by El Niño, larger trees have been virtually unaffected.

"African tropical forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle, absorbing 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year in the 2000s. To discover that they will be able to tolerate the predicted conditions of the near future is an unusual source of optimism in climate change science," Dr Bennett pointed out.

"The resistance of intact African tropical forests to a bit more heat and drought than they have experienced in the past is welcome news. But we still need to cut carbon dioxide emissions fast, as our forests will probably only resist limited further rises in air temperature," added Bonaventure Sonké, a professor at Yaoundé 1 University in Cameroon and co-author of the research. – AFP Relaxnews

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