Atmospheric carbon dioxide records indicate that the land surface has acted as a strong global carbon sink over recent decades1,2, with a substantial fraction of this sink probably located in the tropics3, particularly in the Amazon4. Nevertheless, it is unclear how the terrestrial carbon sink will evolve as climate and atmospheric composition continue to change. Here we analyse the historical evolution of the biomass dynamics of the Amazon rainforest over three decades using a distributed network of 321 plots. While this analysis confirms that Amazon forests have acted as a long-term net biomass sink, we find a long-term decreasing trend of carbon accumulation. Rates of net increase in above-ground biomass declined by one-third during the past decade compared to the 1990s. This is a consequence of growth rate increases levelling off recently, while biomass mortality persistently increased throughout, leading to a shortening of carbon residence times. Potential drivers for the mortality increase include greater climate variability, and feedbacks of faster growth on mortality, resulting in shortened tree longevity5. The observed decline of the Amazon sink diverges markedly from the recent increase in terrestrial carbon uptake at the global scale1,2, and is contrary to expectations based on models6.
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The RAINFOR forest monitoring network has been supported principally by the Natural Environment Research Council (grants NE/B503384/1, NE/D01025X/1, NE/I02982X/1, NE/F005806/1, NE/D005590/1 and NE/I028122/1), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and by the EU Seventh Framework Programme (GEOCARBON-283080 and AMAZALERT-282664). R.J.W.B. is funded by NERC Research Fellowship NE/I021160/1. O.P. is supported by an ERC Advanced Grant and is a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award holder. Additional data were supported by Investissement d’Avenir grants of the French ANR (CEBA: ANR-10-LABX-0025; TULIP: ANR-10-LABX-0041), and contributed by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, funded by Conservation International, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institution, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This paper is 656 in the Technical Series of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP-INPA/STRI). The field data summarized here involve vital contributions from many field assistants and rural communities in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Venezuela, most of whom have been specifically acknowledged elsewhere4. We additionally thank A. Alarcon, I. Amaral, P. P. Barbosa Camargo, I. F. Brown, L. Blanc, B. Burban, N. Cardozo, J. Engel, M. A. de Freitas, A. de Oliveira, T. S. Fredericksen, L. Ferreira, N. T. Hinojosa, E. Jiménez, E. Lenza, C. Mendoza, I. Mendoza Polo, A. Peña Cruz, M. C. Peñuela, P. Pétronelli, J. Singh, P. Maquirino, J. Serano, A. Sota, C. Oliveira dos Santos, J. Ybarnegaray and J. Ricardo for contributions. CNPq (Brazil), MCT (Brazil), Ministerio del Medio Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial (Colombia), Ministerio de Ambiente (Ecuador), the Forestry Commission (Guyana), INRENA (Peru), SERNANP (Peru), and Ministerio del Ambiente para el Poder Popular (Venezuela) granted research permissions. We thank our deceased colleagues and friends, A. H. Gentry, J. P. Veillon, S. Almeida and S. Patiño for invaluable contributions to this work; their pioneering efforts to understand neotropical forests continue to inspire South American ecologists.
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About this article
Nature Communications (2018)