Responses of tropical trees to rainfall seasonality and its long term changes

by Rolf Borchert
Climatic Change ()


Seasonality and physiognomy of tropical forests are mainly determined by the amount of annual rainfall and its seasonal distribution. Climatic change scenarios predict that global warming will result in reduced annual rainfall and longer dry seasons for some, but not all, tropical rainforests. Tropical trees can reduce the impact of seasonal drought by adaptive mechanisms such as leaf shedding or stem succulence and by utilization of soil water reserves, which enable the maintenance of an evergreen canopy during periods of low rainfall. Correlations between climate and responses of tropical trees are therefore poor and the responses of tropical rainforests to climatic changes are hard to predict. Predicted climate change is unlikely to affect the physiognomy of rainforests with high annual rainfall and low seasonality. Seasonal evergreen forests which depend on the use of soil water reserves will be replaced by more droughttolerant semideciduous forests, once rainfall becomes insufficient to replenish soil water reserves regularly. As the limits of drought tolerance of tropical rainforests are not known, rate and extent of future changes cannot be predicted.

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