The University of Stirling scientists have conducted research in Lopé National Park, Gabon, since 1979 – collecting data on its trees, and their carbon storage credentials, for decades.
The new study is the first to analyse long-term climate sensitivity, based on direct observation of whole forests across the topics. It suggests that, over the long-term, temperature has the greatest effect on forest carbon stocks by reducing growth, with drought killing trees the second factor.
The research team conclude that tropical forests have long-term capacity to adapt to some climate change, in part because of their high biodiversity, as tree species better able to tolerate new climatic conditions grow well and replace less well-adapted species over the long-term. However, maximising this potential climate resilience depends on keeping forests intact.
Dr Jeffery – who was based full-time in Gabon between 2004 and 2017 – said: “This study is the product of a global collaboration – one that Stirling researchers have been underpinning for four decades, with our long-term forest ecology programme at Lopé. It has now expanded to a permanent network of more than 300 forest plots across the whole of Gabon.
“The paucity of the data from Central Africa’s forests – compared to those in South America – means that Stirling’s contribution to maintaining these plots for global comparison is hugely important.”
The Nature paper, published in March, found that the ability of the world’s tropical forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere is decreasing. The research – which tracked 300,000 trees over 30 years – revealed that a feared switch of the world’s undisturbed tropical forests from a carbon sink to a carbon source has begun.
Professor Abernethy, who runs Stirling’s Tropical Ecology Research Group, said: “Stirling continues to manage the prestigious Lopé National Park ecological research site, which has produced several of the largest and longest-running ecological datasets in Africa and was recently advocated as a ‘supersite’ for data relevant to evaluating the impacts of climate change in rainforests.
“Our multidisciplinary programme provides a rigorous, empirical evidence-base to improve their sustainable management.”