Natural climate buffers feeling effects of higher temperatures, UAntwerp biologists find.
climate change
Ecosystems like forests sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide and therefore help to slow down global warming. These ecosystems are, however, increasingly becoming the victims of rising temperatures, according to new research led by the University of Antwerp.

Forests and other ecosystems play an essential role in the fight against global warming. Worldwide, around 15-30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by humans is sequestered in terrestrial ecosystems. But the amount of CO2 an ecosystem can take up is strongly influenced by external factors. A new international study led by researchers from UAntwerp shows that the amount of CO2 stored by ecosystems has increased substantially over the last twenty years.

“This increase is mainly the result of rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, which stimulate plant growth”, explains biologist Sara Vicca. “That’s partly good news of course, but it turns out that global warming and higher temperatures are already reducing the positive effects this has on CO2 sequestration. There’s growing evidence that global warming, and the extreme weather that comes with it, are limiting the buffer capacity of our ecosystems.”

Buffer under threat
In other words, our ecosystems have increasingly been serving as buffers against climate change, but climate change itself is affecting this natural buffer. Because of this, climate change and all its negative consequences look set to accelerate even more.

The new study also shows that especially tropical forests are the key players in ecosystems’ growing CO2 storage. “Those forests are currently the largest climate change buffers on land,” says Marcos Fernandez Martinez. “That means tropical forests are indispensable in ‘mitigating’ climate change and its consequences. It’s vital that they are protected on a large scale, and this is something that hasn’t received enough attention so far.”

The international team’s findings are being published in Nature Climate Change.