According to new research, the Amazon rainforest is becoming less resilient, reducing the likelihood of widespread death.
According to a research, resilience the ability to recover from catastrophes such as droughts or fires has decreased consistently in more than three quarters of the rainforest since the early 2000s.
Experts believe the Amazon might soon reach a tipping point, which would result in death and devastation of much of the forest to savannah, with significant implications on biodiversity, global carbon storage, and climate change.
The timing of achieving that critical point is uncertain, but the research suggests that resilience to the system is "consistent" with a approaching tipping point.
The study was carried out by the University of Exeter, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Technical University of Munich. An agreement has recently been signed to examine the impact of climate change.
"The Amazon rainforest is a complex system, so it''s very difficult to predict if and when a tipping point might be reached," said Dr Chris Boulton of Exeter''s Global Systems Institute.
"We have satellite data on the Amazon that covers a sufficiently long period to observe changes in resilience.
"Our analysis focused on month-to-month fluctuations as the forest responded to fluctuating weather conditions.
"We''ve reviewed statistics that are theoretically related to the rate of recovery following perturbations (external events that affect the forest) to see how the resilience of the Amazon ecosystem has evolved in recent decades.
"Resilience slowed during the major droughts of 2005 and 2010, as part of an ongoing decline from the early 2000s to the most recent statistics in 2016.
"As a result, we expect the forest to recover more slowly following a drought now than it would have had twenty years ago," says the forestry secretary.
Resilience grew from 1991 to around 2000, but the constant decrease since then has resulted in a decline far below the expected levels.
"Deforestation and climate change are likely to be the main drivers of this decline," said PIK CEO Niklas Boers.
"Resilience is being reduced in parts of the rainforest that are closer to human activity, as well as those with less rainfall.
"Many researchers have suggested that a tipping point might be reached, but our research provides evidence that we are approaching that threshold."
The analysis included several data sources, including satellite data on Vegetation Optical Depth (VOD), a measure of the total biomass of trees and other plants in a given area.
Despite climate change, average rainfall in the Amazon hasn''t changed dramatically in recent decades.
Dry seasons have become shorter, but droughts have become more common and severe.
VOD levels from the study suggest total biomass has decreased quite, but the improvement in resilience is much greater.
The researchers highlight this distinction between resilience and the average "state" of the rainforest.
"The rainforest can appear more or less the same, but it might be losing strength, making it less abrasive to recover from a major event like a drought," said Professor Tim Lenton, director of Exeters Global Systems Institute.
"If too much resilience is lost, the drawback may be inevitable, but it will not become obvious until the major event that guides the system," said Professor Boers.
"Many interlinked factors, including droughts, fires, deforestation, degradation, and climate change, might combine to reduce resilience and trigger the crossing of a tipping point in the Amazon."
"This gives new compelling evidence to support efforts to reverse deforestation and degradation of the Amazon, owing to it''s ability to cope with ongoing climate change," said Professor Lenton.