Letter | Published:

Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests

Nature volume 530, pages 211214 (11 February 2016) | Download Citation


Land-use change occurs nowhere more rapidly than in the tropics, where the imbalance between deforestation and forest regrowth has large consequences for the global carbon cycle1. However, considerable uncertainty remains about the rate of biomass recovery in secondary forests, and how these rates are influenced by climate, landscape, and prior land use2,3,4. Here we analyse aboveground biomass recovery during secondary succession in 45 forest sites and about 1,500 forest plots covering the major environmental gradients in the Neotropics. The studied secondary forests are highly productive and resilient. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years was on average 122 megagrams per hectare (Mg ha−1), corresponding to a net carbon uptake of 3.05 Mg C ha−1 yr−1, 11 times the uptake rate of old-growth forests. Aboveground biomass stocks took a median time of 66 years to recover to 90% of old-growth values. Aboveground biomass recovery after 20 years varied 11.3-fold (from 20 to 225 Mg ha−1) across sites, and this recovery increased with water availability (higher local rainfall and lower climatic water deficit). We present a biomass recovery map of Latin America, which illustrates geographical and climatic variation in carbon sequestration potential during forest regrowth. The map will support policies to minimize forest loss in areas where biomass resilience is naturally low (such as seasonally dry forest regions) and promote forest regeneration and restoration in humid tropical lowland areas with high biomass resilience.

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This paper is a product of the 2ndFOR collaborative research network on secondary forests. We thank the owners of the secondary forest sites for access to their forests, all the people who have established and measured the plots, and the institutions and funding agencies that supported them. We thank J. Zimmerman for the use of plot data, and the following agencies for financial support: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-DFAT, CGIAR-FTA, CIFOR, Colciencias grant 1243-13-16640, Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (SEP-CONACYT 2009-129740 for ReSerBos, CONACYT 33851-B), Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq: 563304/2010-3, 562955/2010-0, 574008/2008-0 and PQ 307422/2012-7), FOMIX-Yucatan (YUC-2008-C06-108863), ForestGEO, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG CRA APQ-00001-11), Fundación Ecológica de Cuixmala, Heising-Simons Foundation, HSBC, ICETEX, Instituto Internacional de Educação do Brasil-IEB, Instituto Nacional de Serviços Ambientais da Amazônia -Servamb-INPA, Inter-American Institute for Global Change (Tropi-Dr Network CRN3-025) via a grant from the US National Science Foundation (grant GEO-1128040), Motta Family Foundation, NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program, National Science Foundation (NSF-CNH-RCN grant 1313788 for Tropical Reforestation Network: Building a Socioecological Understanding of Tropical Reforestation (PARTNERS), NSF DEB-0129104, NSF BCS-1349952, NSF Career Grant DEB-1053237, NSF DEB 1050957, 0639393, 1147429, 0639114, and 1147434), NUFFIC, USAID (BOLFOR), Science without Borders Program (CAPES/CNPq) grant number 88881.064976/2014-01, The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) grant 2011/06782-5 and 2014/14503-7, Silicon Valley Foundation, Stichting Het Kronendak, Tropenbos Foundation, University of Connecticut Research Foundation, Wageningen University (INREF Terra Preta programme and FOREFRONT programme). This is publication number 683 in the Technical Series of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project BDFFP-INPA-SI. This study was partly funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement number 283093; Role Of Biodiversity In climate change mitigatioN (ROBIN).

Author information


  1. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Lourens Poorter
    • , Frans Bongers
    • , Catarina C. Jakovac
    • , Madelon Lohbeck
    • , Marielos Peña-Claros
    •  & Danaë M. A. Rozendaal
  2. PO Box 23360, Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR 00931-3360, Puerto Rico

    • T. Mitchell Aide
  3. Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab, Department of Geography, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487, USA

    • Angélica M. Almeyda Zambrano
    •  & Eben N. Broadbent
  4. Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, CP58190, Morelia, Michoacán, México

    • Patricia Balvanera
    • , Miguel Martínez-Ramos
    • , Francisco Mora
    •  & Jorge Rodríguez-Velázquez
  5. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA

    • Justin M. Becknell
  6. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA

    • Vanessa Boukili
    • , Robin L. Chazdon
    •  & Danaë M. A. Rozendaal
  7. Department of Forest Sciences, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, University of São Paulo, Avenida Pádua Dias 11, 13418-900, Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil

    • Pedro H. S. Brancalion
    •  & Ricardo G. César
  8. SI ForestGEO, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Roosevelt Avenue, Tupper Building – 401, Balboa, Ancón, Panamá, Panamá

    • Dylan Craven
    • , Jefferson S. Hall
    •  & Michiel van Breugel
  9. German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.

    • Dylan Craven
  10. Institute for Biology, Leipzig University, Johannisallee 21, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Dylan Craven
  11. Departamento de Botanica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Pernambuco, CEP 50670-901, Brazil

    • Jarcilene S. de Almeida-Cortez
    •  & George A. L. Cabral
  12. Department of Sustainability Science, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Unidad Campeche, Av. Rancho Polígono 2A, Parque Industrial Lerma, Campeche, Campeche, CP 24500, México

    • Ben H. J. de Jong
    • , Susana Ochoa-Gaona
    •  & Edith Orihuela-Belmonte
  13. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130, USA

    • Julie S. Denslow
  14. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Roosevelt Avenue, Tupper Building – 401, Balboa, Ancón, Panamá, Panamá

    • Daisy H. Dent
  15. Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK

    • Daisy H. Dent
  16. Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, 132 Long Hall, Clemson, South Carolina 29634, USA

    • Saara J. DeWalt
  17. Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, AC, Unidad de Recursos Naturales, Calle 43 No. 130, Colonia Chuburná de Hidalgo, CP 97200, Mérida, Yucatán, México

    • Juan M. Dupuy
    •  & José Luis Hernandez-Stefanoni
  18. Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E3, Canada

    • Sandra M. Durán
    •  & Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa
  19. Departamento de Biologia Geral, Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros, Montes Claros, Minas Gerais, CEP 39401-089, Brazil

    • Mario M. Espírito-Santo
    • , Yule R. F. Nunes
    •  & Maria D. M. Veloso
  20. Fondo Patrimonio Natural para la Biodiversidad y Areas Protegidas, Calle 72 No. 12-65 piso 6, Bogotá, Colombia

    • María C. Fandino
  21. Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, Environmental Dynamics Research Coordination, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia, Manaus, Amazonas, CEP 69067-375, Brazil

    • Catarina C. Jakovac
    • , Paulo Massoca
    • , Rita Mesquita
    • , Alberto Vicentini
    • , Tony Vizcarra Bentos
    •  & G. Bruce Williamson
  22. Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, Wageningen University, PO Box 430, 6700 AK Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • André B. Junqueira
  23. Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • André B. Junqueira
  24. Coordenação de Tecnologia e Inovação, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Avenida André Araújo, 2936 – Aleixo, 69060-001 Manaus, Brazil

    • André B. Junqueira
  25. Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, Colorado Mesa University, 1100 North Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado 81501, USA

    • Deborah Kennard
  26. Department of Environmental Studies, Purchase College (State University of New York), Purchase, New York 10577, USA

    • Susan G. Letcher
  27. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF), FCA-UAGRM, Casilla 6204, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

    • Juan-Carlos Licona
    •  & Marisol Toledo
  28. World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), PO Box 30677 - 00100, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Madelon Lohbeck
  29. Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 550 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Erika Marín-Spiotta
  30. Departamento de Ecología y Recursos Naturales, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México 04510 DF, México

    • Jorge A. Meave
    • , Francisco Mora
    • , Rodrigo Muñoz
    • , Eduardo A. Pérez-García
    •  & I. Eunice Romero-Pérez
  31. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Robert Muscarella
    • , Naomi B. Schwartz
    •  & Maria Uriarte
  32. Section of Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Aarhus 8000, Denmark

    • Robert Muscarella
  33. Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão, travessa 14, No. 321, São Paulo, CEP 05508-090, Brazil

    • Alexandre A. de Oliveira
  34. Universidade Federal do Sul da Bahia, Centro de Formação em Ciências Agroflorestais, Itabuna-BA, 45613-204, Brazil

    • Daniel Piotto
  35. Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Jennifer S. Powers
  36. Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Jennifer S. Powers
  37. School of Social Sciences, Geography Area, Universidad Pedagogica y Tecnologica de Colombia (UPTC), Tunja, Colombia

    • Jorge Ruíz
  38. Department of Geography, 4841 Ellison Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Jorge Ruíz
  39. Cr 5 No 14-05, PO Box 412, Cota, Cundinamarca, Colombia

    • Juan G. Saldarriaga
  40. 4007 18th St Northwest, Washington DC 20011, USA

    • Marc K. Steininger
  41. Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA

    • Nathan G. Swenson
  42. Yale-NUS College, 12 College Avenue West, Singapore 138610

    • Michiel van Breugel
  43. Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, 14 Science Drive 4, Singapore 11754

    • Michiel van Breugel
  44. Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur - Unidad Villahermosa, 86280 Centro, Tabasco, México

    • Hans van der Wal
  45. Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), University of Amsterdam, PO Box 94248, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Hans F. M. Vester
  46. Bonhoeffer College, Bruggertstraat 60, 7545 AX Enschede, The Netherlands

    • Hans F. M. Vester
  47. Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, CP 399, CEP 66040-170, Belém, Brazil

    • Ima C. G. Vieira
  48. Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803-1705, USA

    • G. Bruce Williamson
  49. Department of Biology, University of Regina, 3737 Wascana Parkway, Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2, Canada

    • Danaë M. A. Rozendaal


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L.P., F.B. and D.R. conceived the idea and coordinated the data compilations, D.R. analysed the data, L.P., F.B., E.N.B. and R.C. contributed to analytical tools used in the analysis, E.N.B. and A.M.A.Z. made the map, L.P. wrote the paper, and all co-authors collected field data, discussed the results, gave suggestions for further analyses and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lourens Poorter.

Plot-level AGB data of 41 sites are available from the Dryad Digital Repository: http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.82vr4, and for four sites they can be requested from L.P.

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