From: Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published December 15, 2012 07:04 AM

Some Amazon Tree Species Found to Have Existed for Millions of Years

Some Amazon rainforest tree species are more than eight million years old found a genetic study published in the December 2012 edition of Ecology and Evolution.

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Christopher Dick of the University of Michigan and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, Mark Maslin of University College London, and Eldredge Bermingham of STRI analyzed the age of 12 widely distributed Amazon tree species. They found that nine of the species emerged prior to the Pliocene Epoch some 2.6 million years ago, seven dated to the Miocene Epoch (5.6 million years ago), and three were more than eight million years old.

The findings indicate that many Amazon tree species have survived warm periods in the past and are therefore likely to survive climate change projected for the year 2100. Air temperatures in the Amazon during the early Pliocene were similar to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections for the region in 2100 under a moderate carbon emissions scenario, while temperatures in the late Miocene (5.3-11.5 million years ago) are roughly what the IPCC forecasts under a highest carbon emissions scenario.

The study seems to be at odds with other research suggesting that many Amazon trees would face extinction from higher temperatures alone. For example a 2008 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) projected up to 50 percent of "rare" species across the Amazon could disappear.

However the authors caution that the results do not indicate that Amazon trees are out of the woods yet — other environmental and ecological changes still leave the region highly vulnerable.

Rainforest waterfall photo via Shutterstock.

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