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Biologists uncover forests’ unexpected role in climate change

Biologists uncover forests’ unexpected role in climate change

Newswise — MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—New research from West Virginia University biologists shows that trees around the world are consuming more carbon dioxide than previously reported, making forests even more important in regulating the Earth’s atmosphere and forever shift how we think about climate change.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Richard Thomas and alumnus Justin Mathias (B.S. Biology, ’13 and Ph.D. Biology, ’20) synthesized published tree ring studies. They found that increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past century have caused an uptick in trees’ water-use efficiency, the ratio of carbon dioxide taken up by photosynthesis to the water lost by transpiration – the act of trees “breathing out” water vapor.

“This study really highlights the role of forests and their ecosystems in climate change,” said Thomas, interim associate provost for graduate academic affairs. “We think of forests as providing ecosystem services. Those services can be a lot of different things – recreation, timber, industry. We demonstrate how forests perform another important service: acting as sinks for carbon dioxide. Our research shows that forests consume large amounts of carbon dioxide globally. Without that, more carbon dioxide would go into the air and build up in the atmosphere even more than it already is, which could exacerbate climate change. Our work shows yet another important reason to preserve and maintain our forests and keep them healthy.”
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