Natural forests have been associated with multiple ecosystem services that derive in societal benefits, not only locally but even globally, through their role on climate and biogeochemical regulation. However, forests are threatened, particularly in the tropics, where deforestation, land use change and climate dynamics interact to catalyze forest loss. Still debated are the effects of tropical forest loss local-to-regional hydrologic responses, associated with regional-to-global climatic effects of forest conversion via ecoclimate teleconnections.
We present evidence the regulatory role of tropical forests in the dynamics of hydrological, biogeochemical and atmospheric processes for multiple spatial and temporal scales. At the local scale, forest conversion into other land uses results in altered hydrologic dynamics that affects the capacity of river basins to maintain a regulated hydrological function. These effects are also reflected in other biogeochemical properties, and more generally to regional ecological function. When aggregated in space, these effects can have important implications for regional-to-continental climate dynamics, as our empirical analysis indicate a strong coupling between forest cover and precipitation dynamics—amount and seasonality—in tropical south America. Collectively, our results highlight how, current rates of forest loss in the tropics can significantly alter local-to-global environmental processes, with important implications for ecosystem services.