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Climate change causes strong declines in ecosystem services provided by tropical forests

Study by the University of Freiburg shows high economic costs of climate effects on forests in Central America

Freiburg, Apr 13, 2023

Tropical forests provide a variety of ecosystem services that are also of great global relevance, such as climate regulation and the provision of habitat for animals and plants. However, climate change can impair these services, which also has serious economic consequences. For the forest ecosystems of Central America, climate effects cause a reduction in the services of climate regulation and provision of habitat in 24 to 62 percent of the study area, depending on the scenario - and cause associated economic costs of 51 to 314 billion dollars per year by the end of the 21st century. This is shown in a study by the Freiburg forest scientists Lukas Baumbach, Prof. Dr. Marc Hanewinkel and Dr. Rasoul Yousefpour and Prof. Dr. Thomas Hickler of the Senckenberg Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum (Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre) in Frankfurt a. M. The results have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Global biodiversity hotspots

Tropical forests function, among other things, as important carbon sinks and thus contribute to climate regulation. They also make a significant contribution to the conservation of biodiversity by providing habitat for a large variety of species. This is especially true for the forests of Central America, which are known as global biodiversity hotspots. "Until now, however, there has been a lack of analysis of climate effects on these services as well as of their economic impacts on Central America's forest ecosystems," says Baumbach.

In the scientists' study, the decline of these services due to climate effects is particularly pronounced in tropical dry forests and montane rainforests. Especially in countries with low gross domestic product, these changes result in high economic losses of up to 335 percent of the gross domestic product. "Interestingly, in most scenarios, the costs of reduced habitat provision exceeded the costs of reduced carbon storage or climate regulation," says Baumbach.

First assessment of economic impact

On the one hand, the study provides a first assessment of the magnitude of possible economic impacts of climate change in Central America's forests. On the other hand, it particularly emphasises the economic relevance of other ecosystem services besides climate regulation, which is often in the foreground due to the strong economic role of carbon markets. "Our results show that there should also be a stronger focus on other ecosystem services of tropical forests," says Baumbach.

Factual overview:

  • Original publication: Baumbach, L., Hickler, T., Yousefpour, R., Hanewinkel, M.: High economic costs of reduced carbon sinks and declining biome stability in Central American forests. Nat Commun 14, 2043 (2023).
  • Marc Hanewinkel is Professor of Forest Economics and Forest Planning at the University of Freiburg. Lukas Baumbach is a Research Assistant, and Rasoul Yousefpour is a Assistant Professor at the professorship. Thomas Hickler leads the research group 'Biogeography and Ecosystem Ecology' at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre Frankfurt and is Professor for Quantitative Biogeography at the Goethe-University Frankfurt.
  • The research work was funded by the German Research foundation DFG (project 416575874).


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