(November 14, 2010) If the planet heats up dramatically, as Al Gore and others fear, the planet’s tropical forests could be a big winner, according to a just-published study in Science magazine that looked at a previous warming period in Earth’s history.
“Contrary to speculation that tropical forests could be devastated under these conditions, forest diversity increased rapidly during this warming event,” explained a release from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a participant in the study. “New plant species evolved much faster than old species became extinct. Pollen from the passionflower plant family and the chocolate family, among others, were found for the first time.”
The new study relies on hard evidence rather than the computer models that produce “horror scenarios” about the effects of greenhouse conditions on tropical forests, in the words of Klaus Winter, a Smithsonian scientist. The study estimates that the forest’s genetic diversity soared by 50% under hot conditions, as a wealth of new species made their debut on Earth’s stage.
The study was also supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Fundación Banco del la República de Colombia, the National Geographic Society, the SI Women’s Committee, and ICP-Ecopetrol S.A. examined pollen trapped in rock cores and outcrops in Colombia and Venezuela. The pollen dates back to the period before, during and after the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a time of sudden global warming some 56.3 million years ago.
Spectacular photos of the 60-million-year-old pollen and outcrops can be found here. The study is entitled Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.
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