Hysteresis of tropical forests in the 21st century

In this article published in Nature Communications, the authors explain how tropical forests control their resilience to climate change and deforestation through feedbacks. The forest-rainfall feedback enables the forests to create climatic conditions in which the forests can spread and thereby expand their geographic range of possible distribution. Tropical forests in different regions show varying resilience towards current and future, warmer, climates.

a) A stability landscape of forest cover against rainfall levels. At high rainfall levels, high forest cover is uni-stable (I; green), called ‘stable forest’ throughout this paper. At intermediate rainfall levels, high forest cover (II) and low forest cover (III; nonforest) are bistable states (yellow). At low rainfall levels, only the nonforested state can exist (IV; red). b) The regional forest–rainfall feedback amplifies hysteresis: minimal forest extent includes only stable forests (green), thereby lacking the rainfall enhancement by bistable forests; maximal forest extent includes forests that are bistable (yellow), which then contribute to downwind rainfall levels and may stabilize forests on those locations.

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