There is still a patchy scientific understanding of how forests in SSA
respond to a changing climate. The 'Assessing climate change impacts
over large areas of primary forests in southern South America' (FORECOFUN-SSA
) project addressed this question.
Researchers developed a dynamic modelling framework to analyse
forest–climate interactions and the ecological mechanisms controlling
the response of tree species and forest stands to climate change. The
framework was used to create a model of the forest ecosystem in order to
investigate multiple and interacting impacts on SSA forests on a broad
Field studies were carried out to obtain data on forest structure
and composition. In addition, scientists identified traits that account
for major variation in dominant species along a large climatic gradient.
The results were used to define the parameters controlling the response
of different tree species to climate.
Project partners also modelled forest dynamics at the stand scale,
and at the regional scale to assess forest composition and species
distribution. Data from simulations indicated that a drier climate will
strongly alter forest structure, leading to a dramatic decrease in
FORECOFUN-SSA also contributed to a database of morphological and
functional plant traits. The database will enable scientists to
understand how ecosystems adapt to global change.
Computer simulations revealed that human-made changes in fire
regimes affect the resilience of the threatened conifer Pilgerodendron
oviferum. They also showed that Andean species-rich forests are likely
to be replaced eastwards by woodlands dominated by a single species, and
eventually by steppe.
Project results also contributed to an increased knowledge of rare
and less-studied tree species, thereby reducing the level of uncertainty
in predictive models. This allowed large areas of primary forest in SSA
to be accurately modelled and facilitated the production of
high-quality baseline data for future research.