A new study in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the premontane forests of Argentina and Bolivia are susceptible to large-scale shifts due to climate change, losing over half of the ecosystem to warmer temperatures. Apart of the Yungas tropical forests, premontane forests are the lowest in the Andes, covering hills and flatland; these forests harbor significant biodiversity, yet many of those species may become threatened as the world warms.
“Our results indicate that changes of climate conditions would affect the distribution of premontane forest and a group of distinctive species along the Andes, representing to our knowledge the first study of the kind for a forested subtropical environment,” the authors write.
Using a modeling program, the study found that the Yungas premontane forests could retract by over half with forests migrating to higher altitudes.
In addition, researchers investigated the range of six key tree species under climate change—roble criollo (Amburana cearensis), urundel (Astronium urundeuva), palo blanco (Calycophyllum multiflorum), cedro orán (Cedrela balansae), palo amarillo (Phyllostylon rhamnoides), and lapacho rosado (Tabebuia impetiginosa)—and found a similar retraction for these species as the forest as a whole.
“Distribution models, developed with original and calibrated climate variables, agree on the general pattern of future retraction and upward migration of premontane forest along the Andes, which is probably due to a general increase in temperature,” the authors write.
Currently around 9% of the premontane forests lie in protected areas. However as climate change shifts the forest’s range the percentage under protection drops to 5%.
The authors write that their findings “question the long-term viability […] of protected areas that have been designed to conserve particular habitat types and that might be severely affected by climate change. However they write, “far from making an argument against protected areas, we propose considering the re-design of more dynamic systems.”
CITATION: Pacheco, S., Malizia, L. R. and Cayuela, L. 2010. Effects of climate change on subtropical forests of South America. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (4): 423-437.