CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change

Timothy M. Shanahan, Konrad A. Hughen, Nicholas P. McKay, Jonathan T. Overpeck, Christopher A. Scholz, William D. Gosling, Charlotte S. Miller, John A. Peck, John W. King, Clifford W. Heil

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  • 1 Citations

Abstract

Interactions between climate, fire and CO2 are believed to play a crucial role in controlling the distributions of tropical woodlands and savannas, but our understanding of these processes is limited by the paucity of data from undisturbed tropical ecosystems. Here we use a 28,000-year integrated record of vegetation, climate and fire from West Africa to examine the role of these interactions on tropical ecosystem stability. We find that increased aridity between 28-15 kyr B.P. led to the widespread expansion of tropical grasslands, but that frequent fires and low CO2 played a crucial role in stabilizing these ecosystems, even as humidity changed. This resulted in an unstable ecosystem state, which transitioned abruptly from grassland to woodlands as gradual changes in CO2 and fire shifted the balance in favor of woody plants. Since then, high atmospheric CO2 has stabilized tropical forests by promoting woody plant growth, despite increased aridity. Our results indicate that the interactions between climate, CO2 and fire can make tropical ecosystems more resilient to change, but that these systems are dynamically unstable and potentially susceptible to abrupt shifts between woodland and grassland dominated states in the future.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Article number29587
JournalScientific Reports
Volume6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 18 2016

Fingerprint

climate change
tropical ecosystem
woodland
grassland
climate
woody plant
aridity
ecosystem
savanna
tropical forest
humidity
vegetation
distribution
West Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Shanahan, T. M., Hughen, K. A., McKay, N. P., Overpeck, J. T., Scholz, C. A., Gosling, W. D., ... Heil, C. W. (2016). CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change. Scientific Reports, 6, [29587]. DOI: 10.1038/srep29587

CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change. / Shanahan, Timothy M.; Hughen, Konrad A.; McKay, Nicholas P.; Overpeck, Jonathan T.; Scholz, Christopher A.; Gosling, William D.; Miller, Charlotte S.; Peck, John A.; King, John W.; Heil, Clifford W.

In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 6, 29587, 18.07.2016.

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Shanahan, TM, Hughen, KA, McKay, NP, Overpeck, JT, Scholz, CA, Gosling, WD, Miller, CS, Peck, JA, King, JW & Heil, CW 2016, 'CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change' Scientific Reports, vol 6, 29587. DOI: 10.1038/srep29587
Shanahan TM, Hughen KA, McKay NP, Overpeck JT, Scholz CA, Gosling WD et al. CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change. Scientific Reports. 2016 Jul 18;6. 29587. Available from, DOI: 10.1038/srep29587
Shanahan, Timothy M. ; Hughen, Konrad A. ; McKay, Nicholas P. ; Overpeck, Jonathan T. ; Scholz, Christopher A. ; Gosling, William D. ; Miller, Charlotte S. ; Peck, John A. ; King, John W. ; Heil, Clifford W./ CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change. In: Scientific Reports. 2016 ; Vol. 6.
@article{3e9cfcdfa43c4e689681622506016ba7,
title = "CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change",
abstract = "Interactions between climate, fire and CO2 are believed to play a crucial role in controlling the distributions of tropical woodlands and savannas, but our understanding of these processes is limited by the paucity of data from undisturbed tropical ecosystems. Here we use a 28,000-year integrated record of vegetation, climate and fire from West Africa to examine the role of these interactions on tropical ecosystem stability. We find that increased aridity between 28-15 kyr B.P. led to the widespread expansion of tropical grasslands, but that frequent fires and low CO2 played a crucial role in stabilizing these ecosystems, even as humidity changed. This resulted in an unstable ecosystem state, which transitioned abruptly from grassland to woodlands as gradual changes in CO2 and fire shifted the balance in favor of woody plants. Since then, high atmospheric CO2 has stabilized tropical forests by promoting woody plant growth, despite increased aridity. Our results indicate that the interactions between climate, CO2 and fire can make tropical ecosystems more resilient to change, but that these systems are dynamically unstable and potentially susceptible to abrupt shifts between woodland and grassland dominated states in the future.",
author = "Shanahan, {Timothy M.} and Hughen, {Konrad A.} and McKay, {Nicholas P.} and Overpeck, {Jonathan T.} and Scholz, {Christopher A.} and Gosling, {William D.} and Miller, {Charlotte S.} and Peck, {John A.} and King, {John W.} and Heil, {Clifford W.}",
year = "2016",
month = "7",
doi = "10.1038/srep29587",
volume = "6",
journal = "Scientific Reports",
issn = "2045-2322",
publisher = "Nature Publishing Group",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - CO2 and fire influence tropical ecosystem stability in response to climate change

AU - Shanahan,Timothy M.

AU - Hughen,Konrad A.

AU - McKay,Nicholas P.

AU - Overpeck,Jonathan T.

AU - Scholz,Christopher A.

AU - Gosling,William D.

AU - Miller,Charlotte S.

AU - Peck,John A.

AU - King,John W.

AU - Heil,Clifford W.

PY - 2016/7/18

Y1 - 2016/7/18

N2 - Interactions between climate, fire and CO2 are believed to play a crucial role in controlling the distributions of tropical woodlands and savannas, but our understanding of these processes is limited by the paucity of data from undisturbed tropical ecosystems. Here we use a 28,000-year integrated record of vegetation, climate and fire from West Africa to examine the role of these interactions on tropical ecosystem stability. We find that increased aridity between 28-15 kyr B.P. led to the widespread expansion of tropical grasslands, but that frequent fires and low CO2 played a crucial role in stabilizing these ecosystems, even as humidity changed. This resulted in an unstable ecosystem state, which transitioned abruptly from grassland to woodlands as gradual changes in CO2 and fire shifted the balance in favor of woody plants. Since then, high atmospheric CO2 has stabilized tropical forests by promoting woody plant growth, despite increased aridity. Our results indicate that the interactions between climate, CO2 and fire can make tropical ecosystems more resilient to change, but that these systems are dynamically unstable and potentially susceptible to abrupt shifts between woodland and grassland dominated states in the future.

AB - Interactions between climate, fire and CO2 are believed to play a crucial role in controlling the distributions of tropical woodlands and savannas, but our understanding of these processes is limited by the paucity of data from undisturbed tropical ecosystems. Here we use a 28,000-year integrated record of vegetation, climate and fire from West Africa to examine the role of these interactions on tropical ecosystem stability. We find that increased aridity between 28-15 kyr B.P. led to the widespread expansion of tropical grasslands, but that frequent fires and low CO2 played a crucial role in stabilizing these ecosystems, even as humidity changed. This resulted in an unstable ecosystem state, which transitioned abruptly from grassland to woodlands as gradual changes in CO2 and fire shifted the balance in favor of woody plants. Since then, high atmospheric CO2 has stabilized tropical forests by promoting woody plant growth, despite increased aridity. Our results indicate that the interactions between climate, CO2 and fire can make tropical ecosystems more resilient to change, but that these systems are dynamically unstable and potentially susceptible to abrupt shifts between woodland and grassland dominated states in the future.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84978819053&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84978819053&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1038/srep29587

DO - 10.1038/srep29587

M3 - Article

VL - 6

JO - Scientific Reports

T2 - Scientific Reports

JF - Scientific Reports

SN - 2045-2322

M1 - 29587

ER -