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Amazon rainforest greens up in the dry season

The Amazon rainforest puts on its biggest growth spurt during the dry season, according to new research.

The finding surprised the researchers.

"Most of the vegetation around the world follows a general pattern in which plants get green and lush during the rainy season and then during the dry season, leaves fall because there's not enough water in the soil to support plant growth," said lead researcher Alfredo R. Huete of The University of Arizona in Tucson.

"What we found for a large section of the Amazon is the opposite. As soon as the rains stop and you start to enter a dry period, the Amazon becomes alive. New leaves spring out, there's a flush of green growth and the greening continues as the dry season progresses."

The finding holds true only for the undisturbed portion of the rainforest. Areas where the primary forest has been converted to other uses or disturbed, "brown down" in the dry season, said Huete, a UA professor of soil, water and environmental science.

Huete suggests the deep roots of trees in the undisturbed forest can reach water even in the dry season, allowing the trees to flourish during the sunnier, drier part of the year. In contrast, plants in areas that have been logged or converted to other uses cannot reach deep water in the dry season and therefore either go dormant or die.

Figuring out the metabolism of the Amazon rainforest, the largest old-growth rainforest on the planet, is crucial for understanding how rainforests and other tropical biomes function and how deforestation affects biodiversity and sustainable land use in the tropics. It will also help scientists better understand the global carbon cycle, which affects the natural sequestration and release of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

The finding that converted forests grow differently from undisturbed forests has implications for understanding fire regimes in the tropics, including the fires that sometimes rage in t
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Contact: Mari N. Jensen
mnjensen@email.arizona.edu
520-626-9635
University of Arizona
21-Mar-2006


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