Field of Science

Forest transition to grasslands just a tipping point away

Accumulating evidence suggests that forests, communities dominated by trees, can quickly become grasslands with only some small changes in the environment particularly temperature (higher) and rainfall (lower), which often vary together. This comes as no surprise because one of the best long-term studies with which the Phactor is familiar, the still ongoing research that has been mentioned in this blog before, the monitoring of tropical forests by David and Deborah Clark, suggests the exact same thing. Tipping points are the big problem that looms by ignoring climate change and pretending that nothing needs to be done. What this means is that nothing much will happen as the trend of temperatures rising and rainfall dropping continues, and then in very short order, a forest becomes a grassland maintained by fire ecology. For a grassland to change back into forest takes falling temperatures and a lot more rain. But for people who live in the area, everything changes, plants, animals, agriculture. And even worse all that carbon locked up in wood gets released in short order, carbon dioxide that will help exacerbate the trend that caused the change. So tipping points will catch humans with their pants down around their ankles even though they are not unexpected. Unfortunately by the time you get to say "I told you so!" to do-nothing politicians it's too late, a cheerful thought.

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