Dr Rebecca Hamilton.
A team of international scientists led by Dr Rebecca Hamilton at the University of Sydney has found that rather than dry savannah in South East Asia dominating during the Last Glacial Maximum more than 19,000 years ago, there was a mosaic of diverse closed and open forest types, upending previous scientific consensus.
The findings suggest Asia’s tropical forests could be more resilient to climate change than previously thought, provided a diversity of landscape is maintained. They further show that humans and animals migrating across the region would have had a more diverse resource base than previously understood.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Dr Hamilton, from the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney, said that with climate change accelerating, scientists and ecologists have been concerned about what impact this will have on tropical rainforests in regions like South East Asia.
“Maintaining forest types that facilitate resilience should be a conservation objective for the region. Our work suggests that prioritising protection of forests above 1000 metres (‘montane forest’) alongside seasonally dry forest types could be important for preventing future ‘savannisation’ of Asia’s rainforests,” she said.