Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chicken or Egg in the Amazon Rainforest

Earth Observatory Feature: The Amazon's Seasonal Secret
In the Amazon, it seems, it’s not just the rain that makes a rainforest; the rainforest makes it rain.

... one of the most interesting features of the trend is that it does not appear to be the sunlight itself that cues the trees to make new leaves. “They actually flush [grow new] leaves a little before the arrival of the dry season. It seems to be something in their genetic programming that allows them to anticipate the coming of the light-rich dry season, to prepare for enhanced photosynthesis.”

... From the ground, what someone would see is a forest filled with millions of trees, each shedding and making new leaves on their own schedule. Sometimes, even trees of the same species are completely asynchronous, putting out new leaves or flowers at different times of the year. ...

With millions of trees over a seven-million-square kilometer area changing subtly from day to day, it’s easy to understand how the pattern could be been missed from the ground. Only with years of forest-wide satellite data did the Amazon’s seasonal secret become clear.

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