University of Oxford finds trees inhale less carbon when they are drought – impacted

Trees

For the first time, an international research team has provided direct evidence of the rate at which individual trees in the Amazonian basin ‘inhale’ carbon from the atmosphere during a severe drought.

The researchers measured the growth and photosynthesis rates of trees at 13 rainforest plots across Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, comparing plots that were affected by the strong drought of 2010 with unaffected plots. They found that while growth rates of the trees in drought-affected plots were unchanged, the rate of photosynthesis – by which trees convert carbon into energy to fuel their activities – slowed down by around 10 percent over six months. Their paper, published in the journal, Nature, concludes that trees may be channelling their more limited energy reserves into growth rather than maintaining their own health. Computer simulations of the biosphere have predicted such responses to drought, but these are the first direct observations of this effect across tropical forests.

The three-year international study is the first detailed, large-scale examination of the complete carbon cycle, looking at both the growth and metabolism of forest plots at different sites across the Amazon basin. Each of the plots is one hectare and contains around 400-500 trees. The rainforest plots chosen were representative of the varying climatic and soil conditions of the Amazon basin.

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