Vulnerability of Tropical Forests of the Asian Pacific to international Climate Change

Tropical forests are critical ecosystems affecting the Earth's climate and hydrological cycles, and human cultures. Learn more about how they may be affected by climate change.


J Boone Kauffman


Producer - Michael Furniss
Videography - Ben Nieves
Technical production - Jeffrey Guntle

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Tropical forests are critical ecosystems affecting the Earth's climate, hydrological cycles and human cultures. Although they only cover about 10 percent of the Earth's land surface, they store about 40 percent of the Carbon residing in terrestrial vegetation. They are incredibly important habitats for plants and animals harboring between one-half to two-thirds of the world's species. Not only are they large sinks of terrestrial carbon but they are significant sources of carbon emissions to the atmosphere as a result of high rates of deforestation, fire, and land conversion.

The tropical forests of Hawaii and other islands of the Pacific are global treasures of biological diversity. They posses a higher proportion of endemic plants and animals than anywhere on Earth. However, the combined effects of land use/land cover change, invasive species, and global climate change present unprecedented threats to the existence of the species, ecosystems, and cultures that have thrived there for millennia. Global climate change represents an unprecedented serious threat to tropical forests and people who depend upon them. The effects of increasing temperature, changes in rainfall, increased frequency of ENSO (El Niño) events, rising sea level, and hurricanes or typhoons of greater intensity on tropical landscapes and cultures are of great concern. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that small islands have characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and extreme events.

You should gain an understanding of:

How tropical forests may respond to climate change

The ecosystem services provided by tropical forests, especially as carbon sinks and biodiversity values.

The potential biological, hydrological, and cultural/social impacts of climate change.

Potential actions for scientists and land managers to take.