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Woods Hole Research Center plans controlled burn in Amazon rainforest

f sap between the roots and the leaves. While most trees in this ecosystem never evolved thick bark to protect themselves from fire, some appear more vulnerable to fire than others, and others that appear to have died soon bounce back by resprouting from their roots. In these repeated fires, scientists will learn just how resilient some of these species are. It is quite clear, however, that the composition of the forest will be altered following a fire, and researchers will monitor the impact on forest composition as well as the effect this change has on animal populations and behavior.

These experimental fires are a crucial part of simulating what is happening in the Amazon today, as fires set by landholders to control weeds in their pastures or to burn recently felled forest in preparation for planting often escape beyond their intended boundaries. Undisturbed forests are resistant to burning because their dense leaf canopy prevents all but a tiny portion of incoming solar radiation from reaching the forest interior, keeping the litter layer too moist to sustain a fire. Now large areas of forest are selectively logged prior to being settled, leaving holes in the canopy; longer, more intense dry seasons provoke leaf thinning; and both of these changes allow the litter to become dry enough to sustain a fire. Once a forest has burned a first time, the combination of a more damaged forest canopy and a stock of larger fuel from trees killed by prior fires make it even more vulnerable to subsequent fires. When humans move into an area and begin clearing forest, they seldom abandon it and move away, so until education can alter their behavior, repeated sources of ignition in the future are all but guaranteed. The expectation is that the second fire will be hotter and more damaging than the first due to the increased volume of fuel available from those trees that perished in the first fire, and the fact that this fuel will be very dry. Center scientists are also c
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Source:Woods Hole Research Center


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