Research NewsEcology

Rain Forest Fragments Fare Poorly

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Science  07 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5340, pp. 1016
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5340.1016

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The massive clearing of tropical rain forests over recent decades is having a profound effect on Earth's atmosphere--adding carbon dioxide and exacerbating other human causes of global warming. Now it seems that the fragments of forest left when tracts of rain forest are cut are also making their own, unsuspected contribution to the carbon dioxide equation. On page 1117, researchers report that, once separated from the bulk of the forest, fragments below a certain size appear to be unable to maintain the structure of the original forest. They lose considerable amounts of biomass as large trees, exposed to wind and weather extremes, are killed or damaged--reducing the amount of biological material in the fragment able to absorb carbon dioxide during growth.