Montane forest root growth and soil organic layer depth as potential factors stabilizing Cenozoic global change
We have a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters, led by Chris Doughty, which uses data and insights from our Andean transect to come up with a new theory and model of how tree roots in tropical mountains have helped stabilise the Earth's climate. This is the first time we have linked out contemporary ecological studies with long-term geological and biosphere process - a product of a nice collaboration with Lyla Taylor and David Beerling at Sheffield University which originated from an informal chat with David Beerling at a conference. A nice example of how research can spin off in unexpected directions.
In a warmer world, tree roots are more likely to grow into the mineral layer of the soil, breaking down rock which will eventually combine with carbon dioxide. This weathering draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and cools the planet. This theory suggests that mountainous ecosystems have acted like the Earth's thermostat, addressing the risk of 'catastrophic' overheating or cooling over millions of years. However these processes act too slowly to have any influence on contemporary global warming.
Doughty, C. E., L. L. Taylor, C. A. J. Girardin, Y. Malhi, and D. J. Beerling (2014), Cenozoic global change possibly stabilized by montane forest root growth and soil organic layer depth, Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, doi:10.1002/2013GL058737.
The story is covered in the Mail Online here: Tree roots act as 'Earth's thermostat': Mountain forest growth has stabilised the Earth's climate for millions of years
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University