Trees in the rainforests of Borneo have faster growth rates than those in the Amazon, finds a study published in the Journal of Ecology.
The research compared wood production among various trees in forests on the Asian island and in South America. It found that dipterocarps are the champions when it comes to woody growth.
“In Borneo, dipterocarps — a family of large trees with winged seeds — produce wood more quickly than their neighbors,” said lead author Lindsay Banin of the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in a statement.
“One big question in ecology is whether plant species composition matters at all to fundamental ecosystem functions such as productivity, or carbon storage,” added co-author Oliver Phillips from the University of Leeds. “The fact that dipterocarp-dominated forests achieve faster wood growth than even the most diverse forests in the Amazon shows that the random evolutionary histories of continents can determine their whole ecology. Identity really does matter.”
The productive nature of dipterocarp-dominated forests in Asia has led to intense logging in the region. Only a small fraction of dipterocarp forests in Borneo, Sumatra, and the Philippines remained untouched.
Dipterocarp forest in Sabah, Malaysia. Borneo, the site of the dipterocarp data for the study, lost nearly 9M ha of forest between 2000 and 2013 according to Global Forest Watch
Other research suggests that logging is having a substantial impact on the ecology of dipterocarp forests, disrupting the reproductive cycle of key species. For example, a led study by Lisa Curran found that intensive logging in Kalimantan triggered 90 percent drop in seed production in less than a decade.
“Logging appears to reduce local density and biomass of mature trees and also limits the spatial extent of masting and inhibits the forest’s normal response by disrupting soil conditions,” wrote Tina Butler in a 2005 article on the research. “The reduction of seed results in a loss for the forest.”
With their massive carbon reservoirs, loss and degradation of dipterocarp forests has a disproportionate impact on climate. Worldwide, deforestation and forest degradation accounts for roughly a tenth of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
CITATION: Lindsay Banin et al. Tropical forest wood production: a cross-continental comparison. Journal of Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12263