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Amazonian Trees Are Arranged by Chemistry

Shaunacy Ferro
iStock / iStock

Looking down on the Amazon rainforest from the air, the region looks almost uniformly green. But underlying that monochrome habitat, scientists have discovered a chemical pattern that dictates the growth of forest canopies in lowland areas.

Researchers used imagery from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory to create the first high-resolution chemical maps of the Amazon. They found that plants in different areas of the forest are segregated into chemical groups according to variations in the soil and the elevation, both of which affect the geography of carbon dioxide intake. (The Amazon stores 17% of the carbon on land.) The researchers, whose findings are published in Nature Geoscience, were able to map differences in resources such as water and nutrients across the forest by looking at the chemical traits present. 

Here's what the Amazon looks like through the lens of chemistry:

Image Credit: Greg Asner

It's quite the contrast to the uniformity of most aerial views of the Amazon ecosystem. The red areas on the map represent forest canopies dense with growth chemicals, while the yellow and green areas of the forest have fewer.

The Amazon "is not simply a swath of green that occurs with everything strewn randomly,” says study author Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institute for Science. “Place does matter, even if it all appears to be flat and green monotony at first glance."

[h/t: Eurekalert]