A climate change-induced threat to the ecological resilience of a subtropical monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forest in Southern China


Correspondence: Guoyi Zhou, South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, No 723, Xingke Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, 510650, China, tel. + 86 20 3725 2708, fax + 86 20 3725 2615, e-mail: gyzhou@scib.ac.cn


Recent studies have suggested that tropical forests may not be resilient against climate change in the long term, primarily owing to predicted reductions in rainfall and forest productivity, increased tree mortality, and declining forest biomass carbon sinks. These changes will be caused by drought-induced water stress and ecosystem disturbances. Several recent studies have reported that climate change has increased tree mortality in temperate and boreal forests, or both mortality and recruitment rates in tropical forests. However, no study has yet examined these changes in the subtropical forests that account for the majority of China's forested land. In this study, we describe how the monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forest has responded to global warming and drought stress using 32 years of data from forest observation plots. Due to an imbalance in mortality and recruitment, and changes in diameter growth rates between larger and smaller trees and among different functional groups, the average DBH of trees and forest biomass have decreased. Sap flow measurements also showed that larger trees were more stressed than smaller trees by the warming and drying environment. As a result, the monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forest community is undergoing a transition from a forest dominated by a cohort of fewer and larger individuals to a forest dominated by a cohort of more and smaller individuals, with a different species composition, suggesting that subtropical forests are threatened by their lack of resilience against long-term climate change.