This tropical forest is flowering thanks to climate change

Researchers find an unexpected side effect of rising carbon dioxide levels in a remote tropical forest. 

This tropical forest is flowering thanks to climate change
Forests of Barro Colorado island. Credit: Wikipedia

Climate change is a serious issue that impacts the future of humanity on Earth. Whatever you may believe is the cause, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is rising at an unprecedented rate and impacting our climate.

But for all the doom and gloom such changes portend, a scientist found at least one beautiful side effect of climate upheavals. A study led by Stephanie Pau, a researcher from Florida State University, discovered an unexpected connection between the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and blooming flowers in remote tropical forests of Panama's Barro Colorado island. Apparently, carbon dioxide growth is tied to an increase of flowers in these forests.

"It's really remarkable," said Pau. "Over the past several decades, we've seen temperatures warming and carbon dioxide increasing, and our study found that this tropical forest has responded to that increase by producing more flowers."

In their paper, published in Global Change Biology, Pau and her colleagues analyzed the record of plant materials collected over 28 years and looked at how such factors as rainfall, temperature, light and carbon dioxide affected the forest's flowers. What they realized is that "atmospheric carbon dioxide clearly seems to have had the largest effect on the increase in flowers," explained Pau.

The purple blooms in the tree canopy of Barro Colorado Island. (Photo by Marcos Guerra, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute).

Plants take in the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into energy-giving sugars that fuel vital life processes. More carbon dioxide means more energy which is, in turn, used towards more reproductive activity.

Pau predicted that as the carbon dioxide levels keep going up, tropical forests may continue to experience ecological shifts. She said that their research shows that the trees are "extremely sensitive to even small changes in their climate."

A recent United Nations report showed that the amount of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere is growing at a record pace, reaching a level not seen in millions of years. The concentration of carbon dioxide, a man-made greenhouse gas, reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, going up from 400.0 in 2015, as reported by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization.

Here’s a NASA chart showing the inexorable rise of carbon dioxide thanks to what 97% of climate change scientists say is man-made activity from the middle of 20th century up to now:

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) 

The amount of carbon dioxide is now 45% more than it was at pre-industrial levels and almost twice as much as the levels during recent cycles of ice ages which were followed by warmer periods, say NASA scientists.

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
  • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.

Keep reading Show less

VR experiments manipulate how people feel about coffee

A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.

Expert drinking coffee while wearing a VR headset.

Credit: Escobar / Petit / Velasco, Frontiers in Psychology
Surprising Science
  • Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
  • In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
  • The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Is empathy always good?

    Research has shown how important empathy is to relationships, but there are limits to its power.