Climatic Change

, Volume 39, Issue 2–3, pp 473–485 | Cite as

Global Climate Change and Tropical Forest Genetic Resources

  • Kamaljit S. Bawa
  • S. Dayanandan


Global climate change may have a serious impact on genetic resources in tropical forest trees. Genetic diversity plays a critical role in the survival of populations in rapidly changing environments. Furthermore, most tropical plant species are known to have unique ecological niches, and therefore changes in climate may directly affect the distribution of biomes, ecosystems, and constituent species. Climate change may also indirectly affect plant genetic resources through effects on phenology, breeding systems, and plant-pollinator and plant seed disperser interactions, and may reduce genetic diversity and reproductive output. As a consequence, population densities may be reduced leading to reduction in genetic diversity through genetic drift and inbreeding. Tropical forest plants may respond to climate change through phenotypic plasticity, adaptive evolution, migration to suitable site, or extinction. However, the potential to respond is limited by a rapid pace of change and the non-availability of alternate habitats due to past and present trends of deforestation. Thus climate change may result in extinction of many populations and species. Our ability to estimate the precise response of tropical forest ecosystems to climate change is limited by lack of long-term data on parameters that might be affected by climate change. Collection of correlative data from long-term monitoring of climate as well as population and community responses at selected sites offer the most cost-effective way to understand the effects of climate change on tropical tree populations. However, mitigation strategies need to be implemented immediately. Because many effects of climate change may be similar to the effects of habitat alteration and fragmentation, protected areas and buffer zones should be enlarged, with an emphasis on connectivity among conserved landscapes. Taxa that are likely to become extinct should be identified and protected through ex situ conservation programs.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kamaljit S. Bawa
    • 1
  • S. Dayanandan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonU.S.A

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