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      Abrupt increases in Amazonian tree mortality due to drought-fire interactions.

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          Abstract

          Interactions between climate and land-use change may drive widespread degradation of Amazonian forests. High-intensity fires associated with extreme weather events could accelerate this degradation by abruptly increasing tree mortality, but this process remains poorly understood. Here we present, to our knowledge, the first field-based evidence of a tipping point in Amazon forests due to altered fire regimes. Based on results of a large-scale, long-term experiment with annual and triennial burn regimes (B1yr and B3yr, respectively) in the Amazon, we found abrupt increases in fire-induced tree mortality (226 and 462%) during a severe drought event, when fuel loads and air temperatures were substantially higher and relative humidity was lower than long-term averages. This threshold mortality response had a cascading effect, causing sharp declines in canopy cover (23 and 31%) and aboveground live biomass (12 and 30%) and favoring widespread invasion by flammable grasses across the forest edge area (80 and 63%), where fires were most intense (e.g., 220 and 820 kW ⋅ m(-1)). During the droughts of 2007 and 2010, regional forest fires burned 12 and 5% of southeastern Amazon forests, respectively, compared with <1% in nondrought years. These results show that a few extreme drought events, coupled with forest fragmentation and anthropogenic ignition sources, are already causing widespread fire-induced tree mortality and forest degradation across southeastern Amazon forests. Future projections of vegetation responses to climate change across drier portions of the Amazon require more than simulation of global climate forcing alone and must also include interactions of extreme weather events, fire, and land-use change.

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          Most cited references 36

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          Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model.

          The continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide due to anthropogenic emissions is predicted to lead to significant changes in climate. About half of the current emissions are being absorbed by the ocean and by land ecosystems, but this absorption is sensitive to climate as well as to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, creating a feedback loop. General circulation models have generally excluded the feedback between climate and the biosphere, using static vegetation distributions and CO2 concentrations from simple carbon-cycle models that do not include climate change. Here we present results from a fully coupled, three-dimensional carbon-climate model, indicating that carbon-cycle feedbacks could significantly accelerate climate change over the twenty-first century. We find that under a 'business as usual' scenario, the terrestrial biosphere acts as an overall carbon sink until about 2050, but turns into a source thereafter. By 2100, the ocean uptake rate of 5 Gt C yr(-1) is balanced by the terrestrial carbon source, and atmospheric CO2 concentrations are 250 p.p.m.v. higher in our fully coupled simulation than in uncoupled carbon models, resulting in a global-mean warming of 5.5 K, as compared to 4 K without the carbon-cycle feedback.
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            Climate change, deforestation, and the fate of the Amazon.

            The forest biome of Amazonia is one of Earth's greatest biological treasures and a major component of the Earth system. This century, it faces the dual threats of deforestation and stress from climate change. Here, we summarize some of the latest findings and thinking on these threats, explore the consequences for the forest ecosystem and its human residents, and outline options for the future of Amazonia. We also discuss the implications of new proposals to finance preservation of Amazonian forests.
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              The 2010 Amazon drought.

              In 2010, dry-season rainfall was low across Amazonia, with apparent similarities to the major 2005 drought. We analyzed a decade of satellite-derived rainfall data to compare both events. Standardized anomalies of dry-season rainfall showed that 57% of Amazonia had low rainfall in 2010 as compared with 37% in 2005 (≤-1 standard deviation from long-term mean). By using relationships between drying and forest biomass responses measured for 2005, we predict the impact of the 2010 drought as 2.2 × 10(15) grams of carbon [95% confidence intervals (CIs) are 1.2 and 3.4], largely longer-term committed emissions from drought-induced tree deaths, compared with 1.6 × 10(15) grams of carbon (CIs 0.8 and 2.6) for the 2005 event.
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                Author and article information

                Affiliations
                [1 ] Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, 66035-170, Belém, Pará, Brazil.
                Journal
                Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
                1091-6490
                0027-8424
                Apr 29 2014
                : 111
                : 17
                24733937 1305499111 10.1073/pnas.1305499111 4035969

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