Monday 25 April 2016

Role of animals in mitigating climate change varies across tropical forests

Date: April 25, 2016
Source: University of Leeds

Large animals play a key role in mitigating climate change in tropical forests across the world by spreading the seeds of large trees that have a high capacity to store carbon, new research co-led by the University of Leeds has said.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, sheds important new light on the role seed dispersal by animals plays in mitigating climate change, and how this role can vary in tropical forests across the world.

In tropical forests of the Americas, Africa and South Asia, a large majority of tree species depend on animals for seed dispersal. Tree species with large seeds attain greater adult sizes than those having smaller seeds. Using simulations, the researchers showed that declines of large animals will result in forests having fewer large trees -- and hence carbon losses from these forests over time -- as they play an important role in seed dispersal.

In contrast, a relatively large proportion of large-statured tree species in tropical forests of South East Asia depend on wind and gravity rather than animals for seed dispersal. In these forests, the loss of animal dispersers will not have as pronounced an effect on carbon storage.

Experts from 15 institutions, including the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, together with colleagues from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, examined how tree species dispersed by large animals differed from tree species dispersed by smaller animals and by other methods, for example wind and gravity, in their ability to store carbon.

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