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  1. Abstract

    Deep tropical soils with net anion exchange capacity can adsorb nitrate and might delay the eutrophication of surface waters that is often associated with many temperate croplands. We investigated anion exchange capacity and soil nitrate pools in deep soils in the Southern Brazilian Amazon, where conversion of tropical forest and Cerrado to intensive fertilized soybean and soybean-maize cropping expanded rapidly in the 2000s. We found that mean soil nitrate pools in the top 8 m increased from 143 kg N ha−1in forest to 1,052 in soybean and 1,161 kg N ha−1in soybean-maize croplands. This nitrate accumulation in croplands aligned with the estimated N surpluses in the croplands. Soil anion exchange capacity explained the magnitude of nitrate accumulation. High nitrate retention in soils was consistent with current low levels of streamwater nitrate exported from croplands. Soil exchange sites were far from saturation, which suggests that nitrate accumulation can continue for longer under current cropping practices, although mechanisms such as competition with other anions and preferential water flowpaths that bypass exchange sites could reduce the time to saturation.

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  2. Abstract

    High rates of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) are commonly reported for tropical forests, but most studies have been conducted in regions that receive substantial inputs of molybdenum (Mo) from atmospheric dust and sea‐salt aerosols. Even in these regions, the low availability of Mo can constrain free‐living BNF catalyzed by heterotrophic bacteria and archaea. We hypothesized that in regions where atmospheric inputs of Mo are low and soils are highly weathered, such as the southeastern Amazon, Mo would constrain BNF. We also hypothesized that the high soil acidity, characteristic of the Amazon Basin, would further constrain Mo availability and therefore soil BNF. We conducted two field experiments across the wet and dry seasons, adding Mo, phosphorus (P), and lime alone and in combination to the forest floor in the southeastern Amazon. We sampled soils and litter immediately, and then weeks and months after the applications, and measured Mo and P availability through resin extractions and BNF with the acetylene reduction assay. The experimental additions of Mo and P increased their availability and the lime increased soil pH. While the combination of Mo and P increased BNF at some time points, BNF rates did not increase strongly or consistently across the study as a whole, suggesting that Mo, P, and soil pH are not the dominant controls over BNF. In a separate short‐term laboratory experiment, BNF did not respond strongly to Mo and P even when labile carbon was added. We postulate that high nitrogen (N) availability in this area of the Amazon, as indicated by the stoichiometry of soils and vegetation and the high nitrate soil stocks, likely suppresses BNF at this site. These patterns may also extend across highly weathered soils with high N availability in other topographically stable regions of the tropics.

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  3. Abstract

    In seasonally dry ecosystems, which are common in sub‐Saharan Africa, precipitation after dry periods can cause large pulses of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas, and of nitric oxide (NO), a precursor to tropospheric ozone pollution. Agricultural practices can change soil characteristics, affecting trace N gas emissions. To evaluate the effects of land use on trace gas pulses at the start of the rainy season, we conducted laboratory measurements of N2O and NO fluxes from soils collected from four pairs of agricultural and natural savannah sites across the Sudano‐Sahelian zone. We also conducted in situ wetting experiments, measuring NO fluxes from fallow sandy soils in Tanzania and NO and N2O fluxes from clayey soils in Kenya with different histories of fertilizer use. In incubation studies, NO increased by a factor of 7 to 25 following wetting, and N2O fluxes shifted from negative to positive; cumulative NO fluxes were an order of magnitude larger than cumulative N2O fluxes. In Kenya and Tanzania, NO increased by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude after wetting, and N2O increased by a factor of roughly 5 to 10. Cumulative NO fluxes ranged from 87 to 115 g NO‐N ha−1across both countries—a substantial proportion of annual emissions—compared to roughly 1 g N2O‐N in Kenya. There were no effects of land use or fertilization history on the magnitude of NO or N2O pulses, though land use may have been confounded with differences in soil texture potentially limiting the ability to detect land use effects.

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  4. Abstract

    Seasonally dry tropical forests (SDTFs) account for one-third of the interannual variability of global net primary productive (NPP). Large-scale shifts in dry tropical forest structure may thus significantly affect global CO2fluxes in ways that are not fully accounted for in current projections. This study quantifies how changing climate might reshape one of the largest SDTFs in the world, the Caatinga region of northeast Brazil. We combine historical data and future climate projections under different representative concentration pathways (RCPs), together with spatially explicit aboveground biomass estimates to establish relationships between climate and vegetation distribution. We find that physiognomies, aboveground biomass, and climate are closely related in the Caatinga—and that the region’s bioclimatic envelope is shifting rapidly. From 2008–2017, more than 90% of the region has shifted to a dryer climate space compared to the reference period 1950–1979. An ensemble of global climate models (based on IPCC AR5) indicates that by the end of the 21st century the driest Caatinga physiognomies (thorn woodlands to non-vegetated areas) could expand from 55% to 78% (RCP 2.6) or as much as 87% (RCP8.5) of the region. Those changes would correspond to a decrease of 30%–50% of the equilibrium aboveground biomass by the end of the century (RCP 2.6 and RCP8.5, respectively). Our results are consistent with historic vegetation shifts reported for other SDTFs. Projected changes for the Caatinga would have large-scale impacts on the region’s biomass and biodiversity, underscoring the importance of SDTFs for the global carbon budget. Understanding such changes as presented in this study will be useful for regional planning and could help mitigate their negative social impacts.

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  5. Abstract

    Fertilized temperate croplands export large amounts of reactive nitrogen (N), which degrades water and air quality and contributes to climate change. Fertilizer use is poised to increase in the tropics, where widespread food insecurity persists and increased agricultural productivity will be needed, but much less is known about the potential consequences of increased tropical N fertilizer application. We conducted a meta‐analysis of tropical field studies of nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide emissions, nitric oxide emissions, and ammonia volatilization totaling more than 1,000 observations. We found that the relationship between N inputs and losses differed little between temperate and tropical croplands, although total nitric oxide losses were higher in the tropics. Among the potential drivers we studied, the N input rate controlled all N losses, but soil texture and water inputs also controlled hydrological N losses. Irrigated systems had significantly higher losses of ammonia, and pasture agroecosystems had higher nitric oxide losses. Tripling of fertilizer N inputs to tropical croplands from 50 to 150 kg N ha−1 year−1would have substantial environmental implications and would lead to increases in nitrate leaching (+30%), nitrous oxide emissions (+30%), nitric oxide (+66%) emissions, and ammonia volatilization (+74%), bringing tropical agricultural nitrate, nitrous oxide, and ammonia losses in line with temperate losses and raising nitric oxide losses above them.

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  6. Abstract Tropical forest fragmentation from agricultural expansion alters the microclimatic conditions of the remaining forests, with effects on vegetation structure and function. However, little is known about how the functional trait variability within and among tree species in fragmented landscapes influence and facilitate species’ persistence in these new environmental conditions. Here, we assessed potential changes in tree species’ functional traits in riparian forests within six riparian forests in cropland catchments (Cropland) and four riparian forests in forested catchments (Forest) in southern Amazonia. We sampled 12 common functional traits of 123 species across all sites: 64 common to both croplands and forests, 33 restricted to croplands, and 26 restricted to forests. We found that forest-restricted species had leaves that were thinner, larger, and with higher phosphorus (P) content, compared to cropland-restricted ones. Tree species common to both environments showed higher intraspecific variability in functional traits, with leaf thickness and leaf P concentration varying the most. Species turnover contributed more to differences between forest and cropland environments only for the stem-specific density trait. We conclude that the intraspecific variability of functional traits (leaf thickness, leaf P, and specific leaf area) facilitates species persistence in riparian forests occurring within catchments cleared for agricultural expansion in Amazonia. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  7. Abstract The Amazon biome is being pushed by unsustainable economic drivers towards an ecological tipping point where restoration to its previous state may no longer be possible. This degradation is the result of self-reinforcing interactions between deforestation, climate change and fire. We assess the economic, natural capital and ecosystem services impacts and trade-offs of scenarios representing movement towards an Amazon tipping point and strategies to avert one using the Integrated Economic-Environmental Modeling (IEEM) Platform linked with spatial land use-land cover change and ecosystem services modeling (IEEM + ESM). Our approach provides the first approximation of the economic, natural capital and ecosystem services impacts of a tipping point, and evidence to build the economic case for strategies to avert it. For the five Amazon focal countries, namely, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador, we find that a tipping point would create economic losses of US$256.6 billion in cumulative gross domestic product by 2050. Policies that would contribute to averting a tipping point, including strongly reducing deforestation, investing in intensifying agriculture in cleared lands, climate-adapted agriculture and improving fire management, would generate approximately US$339.3 billion in additional wealth and a return on investment of US$29.5 billion. Quantifying the costs, benefits and trade-offs of policies to avert a tipping point in a transparent and replicable manner can support the design of regional development strategies for the Amazon biome, build the business case for action and catalyze global cooperation and financing to enable policy implementation. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  8. Hydropower dams are touted as one of the cleanest forms of energy production, yet they are associated with severe environmental impacts on both the physical structure and functioning of river ecosystems. The threat is particularly acute in the Brazilian Cerrado—a biodiverse savanna region, spanning over 2 million km2, that concentrates the headwaters of several critical South American watersheds. Our study analyzed the current distribution of large and small hydroelectric plants in the Cerrado and focused on understanding their effect on land use changes. We also propose a Dam Saturation Index (DSI) to help spur more integrated planning for this region. Results indicate that the Cerrado river basins contains 116 (30%) of Brazil’s large hydroelectric plants and 352 (36%) of its small hydroelectric plants. Moreover, these plants spurred significant land use changes within a 5-km buffer of the dams, with over 2255 km2 of native vegetation cleared by 2000 and an additional 379 km2 in the ensuing 20 years, could reach ~1000 km2. Based on the historical anthropization process in the Brazilian savannas, we expect new crops, pastures, and urban equipment to be incorporated into this landscape, with different impact loads. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023
  9. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023
  10. Abstract The contemporary fire regime of southern Amazonian forests has been dominated by interactions between droughts and sources of fire ignition associated with deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture. Until recently, wildfires have been concentrated mostly on private properties, with protected areas functioning as large-scale firebreaks along the Amazon’s agricultural frontier. However, as the climate changes, protected forests have become increasingly flammable. Here, we have quantified forest degradation in the Território Indígena do Xingu (TIX), an iconic area of 2.8 million hectares where over 6000 people from 16 different ethnic Indigenous groups live across 100 villages. Our main hypothesis was that forest degradation, defined here as areas with lower canopy cover, inside the TIX is increasing due to pervasive sources of fire ignition, more frequent extreme drought events, and changing slash-and-burn agricultural practices. Between 2001 and 2020, nearly 189 000 hectares (∼7%) of the TIX became degraded by recurrent drought and fire events that were the main factors driving forest degradation, particularly in seasonally flooded forests. After three fire events, the probability of forest loss was higher in seasonally flooded areas (63%) compared to upland areas (41%). Given the same fire frequency, areas that have not suffered with extreme droughts showed a 24% lower probability of forest loss compared to areas that experienced three drought events. Distance from villages and human density also had a marked effect on forest cover loss, which was generally higher in areas close to the largest villages. In one of the most culturally diverse Indigenous lands of the Amazon, in a landscape highly threatened by deforestation, our findings demonstrate that climate change may have already exceeded the conditions to which the system has adapted. 
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