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Fri Aug 3, 2018, 07:37 PM

Tropical forest canopies get hotter than expected, putting wildlife at risk

by Morgan Erickson-Davis on 3 August 2018

. . .

New research finds that the canopies of tropical forests get significantly hotter than the surrounding air. As global warming ups temperature extremes around the world, scientists worry that this means the treetops of rainforests and the wildlife that live in them could fare poorly in the future. They found high temperatures could also diminish tropical forests’ abilities to remove greenhouse gases from the air, reducing their effectiveness as carbon sinks at a time when the world needs them the most.

To better understand how the temperatures at the tops of trees in a rainforest compare to surrounding air temperatures and how this might affect the functioning of the trees themselves, researchers at Florida State University in the U.S. trained thermal cameras on a tract of rainforest in Barro Colorado Island in Panama.

A study published recently in Ecosphere reveals that the canopies they looked at exceeded the maximum air temperature by as much as 7 degrees Celsius. For context, the Paris Agreement is attempting to stave off the worse effects of climate change by keeping warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

Changing temperatures in the forest canopies of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island could mean major consequences for overall forest health. Photo by Stephanie Pau

Overall, they found that canopies could become 40 percent warmer than the surrounding air. The researchers write that this could have dire implications not only for the trees themselves, but also for the plants and animals that spend their lives in their treetops.


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