Tropical Deforestation and Climate Change: What Does the Record Reveal?

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Abstract

Tropical deforestation is widely believed to directly influence the climate at a number of scales. Yet while much has been written about the tropical forest-climate relationship, there is little empirical evidence showing if and how local and regional climates are modified by deforestation. This study presents the results of an analysis of deforestation and climate change in a rain forest in southern Mexico. Records from 18 climate stations in the Selva Lacandona of Chiapas, Mexico were examined and related to an analysis of deforestation based on Landsat images. The area surrounding some stations has been deforested since the stations were established, while the area surroundings others has remained forested. Strong climatic trends were generally evident at the deforested stations, including decreases in the average daily maximum temperature and temperature range. No precipitation changes were observed. A comparison of the results with microclimatic experiments and modeling studies suggests that the climatic impacts of deforestation are overgeneralized at the local scale. Landscape heterogeneity appears to influence the biophysical mechanisms linking tropical forests and climate, and should be explicitly represented in modeling studies.

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