FAPESP-NERC South American Montane Forests in a Warming World

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Geography


Montane forests in the Andes and the South-eastern Brazilian Mountain Range host the highest plant biodiversity on Earth. Current rates of warming in the Andes are three times higher than elsewhere in S. America, and higher than average warming of 5-6oC is predicted by the end of this century. Hence, the (sub)tropical mountain ranges in Latin America form a high-priority area in which to study the response of tropical trees under future environmental change. Tropical forests also play a crucial role in the global carbon budget, accounting for more than half of terrestrial net primary production and storing around 40% of plant biomass. Uncertainty in the response of tropical forests to global warming is responsible for a large uncertainty in atmospheric CO2 concentrations under any given scenario of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. However, the current generation of Dynamic Global Vegetation and Earth System Models do not include a representation of montane forest functioning, which stems from a lack of empirical understanding, leading to a consideration of only lowland tropical forests in models. We intend to address this knowledge gap by initiating a Latin America-wide network of tropical montane forest sites to gather existing understanding in order to model the contribution of these forests to the regional and global carbon and water cycles, under current and future climate change. This will be achieved via a dedicated workshop at the Uni-Campinas, Brazil, hosted by PP-FAPESP Nagy, with the participation of empirical experts across the network together with DGVM and ESM modellers.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

1. Policy-makers and reserve managers concerned with the conservation of intact tropical and subtropical montane forests.
2. Policy makers and land managers with an interest in capturing, valuing and exploiting ecosystem services (ES) and with the development of policies to facilitate adaptation caused to ES by climatic change.
3. Non-government organisations whose goals relate to the conservation of biodiversity and functioning ecosystems and whose activities include developing strategies to facilitate adaptation to climatic change, informing their supporters and the wider public about these strategies and why they are needed, and lobbying governments about the implementation of such strategies into policy. These will include bodies operating at state, national (IPBES), and intergovernmental levels (e.g. GMBA, CONDESAN, MRI).
4. Private land owners with their property including protected environmentally sensitive areas in the montane forest zone and private nature reserve owners.
5. Research community, with key academic beneficiaries including: (i) the terrestrial ecologists with a particular interest in forests and scaling from leaf to tree to ecosystem; and (ii) the land surface and Earth system modelling communities, globally but in particular in the UK, Brazil and Ibero America. The work has the potential for many transdisciplinary influences, and we expect this work to feed into our active research in allied physical science disciplines, but also into interdisciplinary space, particularly that of socio-ecology, ecosystem services and resource use planning, areas which are actively pursued by our lead partners in Sao Paulo State, Brazil (UNICAMP, INPE at Campos do Jordão LTER).
6. The general public at municipal, state and national levels in terms of interest in issues ranging from a direct risk to livelihoods (eg changes in ES), to national and global economies and well-being.

How will they benefit from this research?

1. Government, NGO and economic stakeholders will benefit from advanced (and through our communication mechanisms, appropriately tailored) information from the catalytic short-, medium- and long-term activities of our project, relevant to long-term environmental policy, livelihoods, healthcare, transport, and economic risks and opportunities associated with land use, land use change and energy.
2. The direct pull-through of observational and experimental data in new model developments will lead to a more realistic representation of forest processes and hence more robust assessment of the impacts of climate change and variability on montane forests and the associated feedbacks to the climate.
3. Our impact with the general public will be achieved through incorporation of our proposed project in ongoing environmental educational programmes at our partners and network members.