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Will Global Warming Disrupt Rainforests?


The Thursday, May 3, 2007 issue of the journal Nature contains a study co-authored by Tom Kursar, a University of Utah biologist also affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Kursar and the other researchers -- including former University of Utah postdoctoral fellow Bettina Engelbrecht -- found that even in tropical rainforests, which are normally thought of as wet, where trees and shrubs grow depends on how resistant they are to drought during dry seasons.

The finding is important because global warming is expected to change rainfall in the tropics, making some areas drier and other wetter. In tropical rainforests where global warming lengthens the dry season and where forest lands already are fragmented by development, the findings suggest that global warming could result in “loss of diversity and perhaps species extinction,” Kursar says.

And even in rainforests where dry seasons are shortened by global warming, “if you want to predict the change [in plant distributions], we’re saying looking at rainfall is going to be the most important factor,” he adds.


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