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Tropical Soil Is Vulnerable to Climate Change

Climate models show that tropical soils are warming rapidly and are susceptible to climate change, according to a groundbreaking experiment on Barro Colorado Island in Panama by researchers from the University of Leeds.

What to Know

  • The tropics may warm by 30° F to 40° F by the end of the century. This warming is likely to cause a decline in the number of species of microbes that live in tropical soils, which could threaten the biodiversity of rainforests, thereby increasing carbon emissions.

  • A long-standing theory maintains that the diversity of bacteria increases when soil temperature goes up. However, findings from the current study show that over a 2-year period, the number of species of microbes in heated plots declined.

  • Changes in the makeup of the microbes  within warming soils are likely to affect  soil health, potentially making it impossible for many of them to exist and likely prompting a change in the plant community above ground.

  • The rate of acceleration in carbon emissions in the warmed tropical soil was three times higher than predicted, demonstrating how sensitive these ecosystems are to a warming climate and emphasizing the urgency for conserving these biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems and to tightly limit current warming.

  • About a third of the carbon stored in soils is held in tropical soils. They support around two thirds of the world’s plant biomass.

This is a summary of the article, “Microbial Diversity Declines in Warmed Tropical Soil and Respiration Rise Exceed Predictions as Communities Adapt,” published by Nature Microbiology on September 8, 2022. The full article can be found on

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