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Amazonian champions

Hoarders: big trees incorporate more carbon

ROEL BRIENENHoarders: big trees incorporate more carbonROEL BRIENEN

No ecosystem on Earth stockpiles as much carbon as the Amazon. With its two to four hundred billion trees, the world’s largest tropical forest stores 17% of all the carbon retained by land-based vegetation globally. An international team of researchers has discovered, however, that only 1% of the Amazon’s tree species account for half of the storage and production of that carbon (Nature Communications, April 28, 2015). The study involved collaborators from 64 institutions in Europe, North America, and South America (11 of them Brazilian), and was headed by Sophie Fauset, a biologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, currently doing post-doctoral work at the University of Campinas (Unicamp). Researchers already knew that despite the vast diversity of trees in the Amazon, the forest is dominated by just a few of its 16,000 species: half of all trees in the region belong to just 227 species. The researchers have now analyzed data on 200,000 individual trees from 3,458 species, collected at 530 locations scattered throughout the Amazon, and concluded that the forest’s ability to produce and store carbon is even more concentrated than had appeared. Only 147 species of trees, mostly ones that grow very large, account for half of all the biomass in the Amazon. Fauset and her colleagues warn, however, that this conclusion does not mean that Amazonian diversity is not important to ensure long-term survival of the forest. Changes in global climate could cause other species to become dominant.