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The Amazon rainforest is getting closer to its 'tipping point', researchers have warned.
The world's largest rainforest may be less able to recover from damage caused by droughts, fires and deforestation, a study has suggested.
This means that large parts of the Amazon could become a sparsely forested savannah, which is far less effective at removing carbon dioxide from the air.
The study was carried out at the University of Exeter, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Technical University of Munich.
Previous studies have shown that the Amazon is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it can absorb.
The University of Exeter's Dr Chris Boulton explained, 'The trees are losing health and could be approaching a tipping point – basically, a mass loss of trees.'
Findings from the study show the Amazon rainforest's health in general is declining.
Signs of a loss of resilience in more than 75% of the forest mean that trees take longer to recover from draughts.
Dr Boulton added, 'And what we also find is that areas which are closer to human land use, such as urban areas or crop lands, they tend to be losing resilience faster, as do areas which receive less rainfall.'
These draughts are caused by climate change and human impact, like deforestation and fires.
The loss of resilience could trigger a 'dieback', according to scientists, and the implications could be 'devastating'.
It may only be decades before a 'significant chunk' of the rainforest becomes a savannah, as per the BBC.
If this were to happen, Dr Boulton said, 'The Amazon stores lots of carbon and all of that would be released into the atmosphere, which would then further contribute to increasing temperatures and have future effects on global mean temperatures.'
Dr Boulton went on to add that halting deforestation could help the problem, as more than a fifth of the forest has been lost when compared to pre-industrial levels.
Also weighing in on the findings, Dr Bonnie Waring from Imperial College London said, 'These latest findings are consistent with the accumulating evidence that the twin pressures of climate change and human exploitation of tropical forests are endangering the world's largest rainforest, which is home to one out of every 10 species known to science.'
The Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world, and if large parts were to turn into sparsely-forested savannah, it would significantly impact the planet's ability to recycle greenhouse gases, which would in turn accelerate climate change.
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