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Tropical Forest Productivity Trajectories
Volume 9, Number 11: 15 March 2006

In a study published online 13 February 2004 (the printout of which was lost for lo these many months in a pile of papers on one of our desks), Malhi and Phillips (2004) highlight key findings of a Theme Issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London on "Tropical Forests and Global Atmospheric Change," the evidence for which was gained from field studies of what they describe as "large-scale and rapid change in the dynamics and biomass of old-growth forests," which attempt to answer the question: What is actually being observed in tropical forests today?

The two researchers begin their synthesis of results by noting that the findings they report "update and expand upon papers by Phillips and Gentry (1994) and Phillips et al. (1998), which first presented evidence of accelerating forest dynamics and increasing forest biomass in old-growth tropical forests." They then state that "Baker et al. (2004) present an updated analysis of changes of biomass in old-growth Amazonian forests, and conclude that there has been a net increase in biomass in recent decades at a rate of 1.22 ± 0.42 Mg ha-1 yr-1, slightly greater than that originally estimated by Phillips et al. (1998)," which earlier study, we hasten to add, reaffirmed the still earlier findings of Phillips and Gentry (1994), who had originally determined that tropical tree productivity had been rising ever higher since at least 1960, with an apparent pantropical acceleration since 1980.

Malhi and Phillips next report that Phillips et al. (2004) confirm that "turnover rates appear to have accelerated across Amazonia." Likewise, they report that Lewis et al. (2004) - who explored "changes in structure and dynamics in greater detail by examining simultaneous changes in forest biomass, growth, mortality and stem number in 50 Amazonian forest plots" - demonstrate that "there appears to have been an acceleration of growth in most of these plots, accompanied by a lagged acceleration of mortality and a general increase in biomass and stem number." In commenting on these findings, Malhi and Phillips say they imply that "the observed increase in biomass is unlikely to be explained by recovery from past disturbance, but instead suggests a direct forcing from CO2, solar radiation and/or possibly temperature."

"In sum," as Malhi and Phillips say in crafting the bottom-line message of the many massive data sets analyzed by the several teams of scientists involved in the work, "there is now unequivocal evidence that the biomass of monitored intact forest plots in the Neotropics has increased in recent times." And they once again state that "the evidence presented by Lewis et al. (2004) of a simultaneous increase in both biomass and turnover does suggest the presence of an external driver (such as CO2 or light) accelerating growth."

What more can one add to such welcome real-world findings? Only that the accelerating growth of the planet's tropical forests has been taking place over the period of time when the world's climate alarmists contend the earth has experienced unprecedented increases in both atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentration - the "twin evils" of the radical environmentalist movement that paints anthropogenic CO2 emissions and global warming as the greatest threats currently facing the biosphere, including humanity.

People of the world, open your eyes. It ... just ... ain't ... so!

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Baker, T.R., Phillips, O.L., Malhi, Y., Almeida, S., Arroyo, L., Di Fiore, A., Erwin, T., Higuchi, N., Killeen, T.J., Laurance, S.G., Laurance, W.F., Lewis, S.L., Monteagudo, A., Neill, D.A., Núñez Vargas, P., Pitman, N.C.A., Silva, J.N.M. and Vásquez Martínez, R. 2004. Increasing biomass in Amazonian forest plots. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B - Biological Sciences 359: 353-365.

Lewis, S.L., Phillips, O.L., Baker, T.R., Lloyd, J., Malhi, Y., Almeida, S., Higuchi, N., Laurance, W.F., Neill, D.A., Silva, J.N.M., Terborgh, J., Lezama, A.T., Vásquez Martinez, R., Brown, S., Chave, J., Kuebler, C., Núñez Vargas, P. and Vinceti, B. 2004. Concerted changes in tropical forest structure and dynamics: evidence from 50 South American long-term plots. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B - Biological Sciences 359: 421-436.

Malhi, Y. and Phillips, O.L. 2004. Tropical forests and global atmospheric change: a synthesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B - Biological Sciences 359: 549-555.

Phillips, O.L. and Gentry, A.H. 1994. Increasing turnover through time in tropical forests. Science 263: 954-958.

Phillips, O.L., Malhi, Y., Higuchi, N., Laurance, W.F., Nunez, P.V., Vasquez, R.M., Laurance, S.G., Ferreira, L.V., Stern, M., Brown, S. and Grace, J. 1998. Changes in the carbon balance of tropical forests: Evidence from long-term plots. Science 282: 439-442.