Although they only make up 6% of Earth’s land surface, rainforests hold 50% of the total plant and animal biodiversity on land, and the Amazon rainforest alone produces 20% of Earth’s oxygen and contains 20% of the world’s freshwater. Intact tropical rainforests absorb and hold more carbon than they release, helping to reduce - or at least mitigate - global climate change. Yet climate change is shifting rain patterns, which will impact ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities. Models predict that some rainforests will dry significantly (e.g., Amazon), while others will be inundated with even more water (e.g., Indonesia).
In studying these systems, the program will identify tropical rainforest ecosystems that are both largely unexplored and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and human impacts, and conduct scientific expeditions to fill in data gaps and provide actionable information to conserve and protect these critical systems.
Their thick vegetation, difficult terrain, remote locations, potentially dangerous creatures, and the sheer volume of life contained within them, make the planet’s rainforests a largely unexplored treasure trove of biodiversity. Indeed, rainforests cover just 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, but are home to 50 percent of the total plant and animal biodiversity of all life on land. There is so much yet to uncover in these hotbeds of life, but the increasing threat of climate change could mean missing out on crucial discoveries forever. By bringing together leading scientists from across multiple disciplines, the Life at the Extremes: Rainforests program will identify tropical rainforest ecosystems that are both largely unexplored and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and human impacts. This team will conduct scientific expeditions to fill in data gaps and provide actionable information to understand, conserve and protect these critical systems.