Monday, September 12, 2016

The Surprising Link Between Tapirs and Climate Change

Tapir (Credit: Sharp Photography/Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
The biggest trees in tropical forests, the ones that can store the most carbon, tend to have bigger seeds and rely on big, fruit-eating animals like tapirs, monkeys and large birds to disperse those seeds.  “So what happens if we have forests that are empty?  There will be cascade effects,” says Carolina Bello, an ecologist at São Paulo State University in Brazil, including possible changes to the amount of carbon a forest can hold.

Bello ran computer simulations of what would happen in Brazil’s Atlantic forest if the trees that depend on large fruit-eaters like tapirs (TAY pers), muriqui monkeys and jacutinga birds went extinct.  She found that the forest’s ability to store carbon could be seriously eroded if even a small proportion of the large-seeded trees were to disappear and be replaced by smaller ones that store less carbon.

“If big frugivores disperse big trees, then carbon stocks depend on big frugivores,” she says.

Anand Osuri, an ecologist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bangalore, India, wanted to see just how much carbon storage could be lost if large, animal-dispersed trees were removed from tropical forests around the world.  Using a computer program to model the change, he found that forests could lose as much as 12 percent of their carbon storage capacity — no small amount when you consider that tropical forests account for around 40 percent of the world’s carbon stores.  But it depends on where those forests are.

“In South America, Africa and South Asia the majority of forests depend on animals,” he says.  “In Southeast Asia and Australia they tend to rely on wind or gravity to disperse their seeds, so those forests do just fine without animals.”

Read more at The Surprising Link Between Tapirs and Climate Change

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