Forests provide humans with economically important and often irreplaceable products and services, and affect global climate by acting as sources and sinks of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Yet the possible responses of forests to ongoing environmental changes are poorly understood.
In the most recent issue of Ecology Letters, Stephenson and van Mantgem show that birth and death rates of trees vary in parallel with global patterns of forest productivity. In less productive forests, such as coniferous forests growing at high latitudes, a century or more can pass before half of all trees die and are replaced with new growth.
In contrast, in the world's most productive forests – tropical forests growing on fertile soils – half of all trees die and are replaced by new growth in only thirty years. The faster turnover of trees means that the world's most productive forests may also be those likely to respond most rapidly – positively or negatively – to environmental changes.
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