In the Amazon forest, not all trees are equal. From a “carbon cycling” point of view–that is the ability of trees to absorb and store CO2–some are better than others. In fact, new research shows that just 1% of Amazonian tree species do half the forest’s climate remediation work.
Researchers analyzed data from the Rainfor network, a dataset built up by hundreds of tropical scientists. In all, they looked at 530 forest plots with 206,135 trees from 3,458 species. One-hundred-eighty-two of them dominated the carbon cycling action. “We find that carbon in the world’s most extensive and diverse tropical forest is concentrated into remarkably few species,” they report in the journal Nature Communications.
To assess how effectively the trees store carbon, the scientists repeatedly measured tree diameter and estimated the amount of biomass stored by each tree species. The 182 are said to be “hyperdominant” for their particular productivity in converting what they absorb into solid wood.
The research could help focus conversation efforts, says lead author Sophie Fauset, a geographer from the University of Leeds. But she’s cautious about privileging certain species too much. Things could be different in other plots or under different conditions, for example as a result of human encroachment.
“Different species vary in their traits, and therefore could respond differently to environmental changes. It is important to maintain this variation so the forests can respond to whatever the future holds,” she says.
But the paper is in line with a previous one in Science on a similar theme. Covering 1,170 tree plots and 16,000 tree species, it found that 227 (1.4%) were hyperdominant. Some trees are giants of the forest, it seems.