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- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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- National Science Foundation
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Frontier forests in the Brazilian Amazon have been heavily altered by nearly a half-century of deforestation for agriculture and degradation from fire and logging. The long-term effects of forest degradation on habitat structure and habitat use remain poorly understood, largely due to the limitations of traditional field methods for characterizing heterogeneity at relevant spatial and temporal scales. This work demonstrates the opportunity to assess degradation impacts on ecosystem structure and biodiversity at landscape scales (200 km2) by combining airborne lidar and acoustic remote sensing across two municipalities in Mato Grosso, Feliz Natal and Nova Ubiratã. Among degradation classes, our results indicate that repeated fire events have the most destructive legacy for both habitat structure and habitat use. Lidar analyses reveal that repeated fire events can result in a total loss of original canopy trees. Similarly, our acoustic analyses suggest that repeated fires may fundamentally transform animal community composition. The combination of remote sensing approaches bridges the scale gap between ground-based and satellite observations to support a regional-scale investigation into the complex consequences of Amazon forest degradation.more » « less
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Tropical ecosystems are undergoing unprecedented rates of degradation from deforestation, fire, and drought disturbances. The collective effects of these disturbances threaten to shift large portions of tropical ecosystems such as Amazon forests into savanna‐like structure via tree loss, functional changes, and the emergence of fire (savannization). Changes from forest states to a more open savanna‐like structure can affect local microclimates, surface energy fluxes, and biosphere–atmosphere interactions. A predominant type of ecosystem state change is the loss of tree cover and structural complexity in disturbed forest. Although important advances have been made contrasting energy fluxes between historically distinct old‐growth forest and savanna systems, the emergence of secondary forests and savanna‐like ecosystems necessitates a reframing to consider gradients of tree structure that span forest to savanna‐like states at multiple scales. In this Innovative Viewpoint, we draw from the literature on forest–grassland continua to develop a framework to assess the consequences of tropical forest degradation on surface energy fluxes and canopy structure. We illustrate this framework for forest sites with contrasting canopy structure that ranges from simple, open, and savanna‐like to complex and closed, representative of tropical wet forest, within two climatically distinct regions in the Amazon. Using a recently developed rapid field assessment approach, we quantify differences in cover, leaf area vertical profiles, surface roughness, albedo, and energy balance partitioning between adjacent sites and compare canopy structure with adjacent old‐growth forest; more structurally simple forests displayed lower net radiation. To address forest–atmosphere feedback, we also consider the effects of canopy structure change on susceptibility to additional future disturbance. We illustrate a converse transition—recovery in structure following disturbance—measuring forest canopy structure 10 yr after the imposition of a 5‐yr drought in the ground‐breaking Seca Floresta experiment. Our approach strategically enables rapid characterization of surface properties relevant to vegetation models following degradation, and advances links between surface properties and canopy structure variables, increasingly available from remote sensing. Concluding, we hypothesize that understanding surface energy balance and microclimate change across degraded tropical forest states not only reveals critical atmospheric forcing, but also critical local‐scale feedbacks from forest sensitivity to additional climate‐linked disturbance.
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