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Location matters in the lowland Amazon

25 May 2015

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You know the old saying: Location, location, location? It turns out that it applies to the Amazon rainforest, too. New work from Carnegie's Greg Asner illustrates a hidden tapestry of chemical variation across the lowland Peruvian Amazon, with plants in different areas producing an array of chemicals that changes across the region's topography. His team's work is published by Nature Geoscience.

"Our findings tell us that lowland Amazon forests are far more geographically sorted than we once thought," Asner explained. "It is not simply a swath of green that occurs with everything strewn randomly. Place does matter, even if it all appears to be flat and green monotony at first glance."

The Amazonian forest occupies more than five million square kilometers, stretching from the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Andes. Thousands of tree and other plant species are found throughout this area, each synthesizing a complex portfolio of chemicals to accomplish a variety of functions from capturing sunlight to fighting off herbivores, to attracting pollinators, not to mention the chemical processes involved in adapting to climate change.

The lowland forests of the Amazon rest on a hidden, underlying mosaic of geologic and hydrologic variation. It turns out that this mosaic affects the diversity of chemical functions that forest plants undertake, because the varying topography affects water, nutrients, and other plant resources. Understanding how the chemical activity of plants varies geographically is crucial to understanding the way an ecosystem functions on a large scale.

Source: Carnegie Institution for Science

Image credit: Greg Asner for Carnegie Institution for Science - These maps explain the geographic pattern of carbon dioxide uptake in the lowland Amazon

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