Letter | Published:

Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink

Nature volume 519, pages 344348 (19 March 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Author notes

    • R. J. W. Brienen
    •  & O. L. Phillips

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.

    • R. J. W. Brienen
    • , O. L. Phillips
    • , T. R. Feldpausch
    • , E. Gloor
    • , T. R. Baker
    • , G. Lopez-Gonzalez
    • , S. L. Lewis
    • , K. J. Chao
    • , S. Fauset
    • , D. R. Galbraith
    • , E. S. Grahame
    • , N. Groot
    • , E. N. Honorio Coronado
    • , H. Keeling
    • , J. Peacock
    • , G. C. Pickavance
    • , M. Schwarz
    •  & J. Talbot
  2. Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK.

    • T. R. Feldpausch
    •  & L. E. O. C. Aragão
  3. Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK.

    • J. Lloyd
  4. School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, 4870 Queenland, Australia.

    • J. Lloyd
  5. Jardín Botánico de Missouri, Prolongacion Bolognesi Mz.e, Lote 6, Oxapampa, Pasco, Peru.

    • A. Monteagudo-Mendoza
    •  & R. Vásquez Martinez
  6. Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QK, UK.

    • Y. Malhi
  7. Department of Geography, University College London, Pearson Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.

    • S. L. Lewis
  8. School of Anthropology and Conservation, Marlowe Building, University of Kent, Canterbury CT1 3EH, UK.

    • M. Alexiades
  9. Servicios Ecosistemicos y Cambio Climático, Jardín Botánico de Medellín, Calle 73 no. 51 D-14, C.P. 050010, Medellín, Colombia.

    • E. Álvarez Dávila
    •  & Z. Restrepo
  10. Center for Tropical Conservation, Duke University, Box 90381, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.

    • P. Alvarez-Loayza
    • , N. C. A. Pitman
    •  & J. Terborgh
  11. Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragment Project (INPA & STRI), C.P. 478, Manaus AM 69011-970, Brazil.

    • A. Andrade
    • , J. L. C. Camargo
    •  & N. Higuchi
  12. National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Av. Dos Astronautas, 1758, São José dos Campos, São Paulo 12227-010, Brazil.

    • L. E. O. C. Aragão
  13. Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno, Casilla 2489, Av. Irala 565, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

    • A. Araujo-Murakami
    • , L. Arroyo
    •  & A. Parada
  14. Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.

    • E. J. M. M. Arets
  15. UNELLEZ-Guanare, Programa de Ciencias del Agro y el Mar, Herbario Universitario (PORT), Mesa de Cavacas, Estado Portuguesa, 3350 Venezuela.

    • G. A. Aymard C.
  16. Biodiversiteit en Ecosysteem Dynamica, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 94248, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    • O. S. Bánki
  17. Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, UMR EcoFoG, Campus Agronomique, 97310 Kourou, French Guiana.

    • C. Baraloto
  18. International Center for Tropical Botany, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33199, USA.

    • C. Baraloto
  19. Universidade Federal do Acre, Campus de Cruzeiro do Sul, Rio Branco, Brazil.

    • J. Barroso
  20. INRA, UMR 1137 ‘‘Ecologie et Ecophysiologie Forestiere’’ 54280 Champenoux, France.

    • D. Bonal
  21. Tropenbos International, PO Box 232, 6700 AE Wageningen, The Netherlands.

    • R. J. Zagt
  22. Embrapa Roraima, Caixa Postal 133, Boa Vista, RR, CEP 69301-970, Brazil.

    • C. V. Castilho
  23. Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Av. de la Cultura N° 733, Cusco, Peru.

    • V. Chama
    • , P. Núñez
    • , N. C. Pallqui Camacho
    •  & J. E. Silva-Espejo
  24. International Master Program of Agriculture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung 40227, Taiwan.

    • K. J. Chao
  25. Université Paul Sabatier CNRS, UMR 5174 Evolution et Diversité Biologique, Bâtiment 4R1, 31062 Toulouse, France.

    • J. Chave
  26. Northeast Region Inventory and Monitoring Program, National Park Service, 120 Chatham Lane, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22405, USA.

    • J. A. Comiskey
  27. Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru.

    • F. Cornejo Valverde
  28. Universidade Federal do Para, Centro de Geociencias, Belem, CEP 66017-970 Para, Brazil.

    • L. da Costa
  29. Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, Campus de Nova Xavantina, Caixa Postal 08, CEP 78.690-000, Nova Xavantina MT, Brazil.

    • E. A. de Oliveira
    • , M. Forsthofer
    • , B. S. Marimon
    • , B. H. Marimon-Junior
    •  & R. K. Umetsu
  30. Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, SAC Room 5.150, 2201 Speedway Stop C3200, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.

    • A. Di Fiore
  31. Department of Entomology, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, MRC 187, Washington DC 20013-7012, USA.

    • T. L. Erwin
  32. Cirad, UMR Ecologie des Forêts de Guyane, Campus Agronomique, 97310 Kourou, French Guiana.

    • B. Hérault
  33. Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana, Av. A. José Quiñones km 2.5, Iquitos, Peru.

    • E. N. Honorio Coronado
  34. World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street NW, Washington DC 20037, USA.

    • T. J. Killeen
  35. Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS) and School of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia.

    • W. F. Laurance
    •  & S. Laurance
  36. Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal, C.P. 6201, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

    • J. Licona
    • , M. Peña-Claros
    •  & M. Toledo
  37. National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA), C.P. 478, Manaus, Amazonas, CEP 69011-970, Brazil.

    • W. E. Magnussen
  38. FOMABO, Manejo Forestal en las Tierras Tropicales de Bolivia, Sacta, Bolivia.

    • C. Mendoza
  39. Escuela de Ciencias Forestales (ESFOR), Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS), Sacta, Bolivia.

    • C. Mendoza
  40. Universidad Estatal Amazónica, Facultad de Ingeniería Ambiental, Paso lateral km 2 1/2 via Napo, Puyo, Pastaza, Ecuador.

    • D. A. Neill
  41. National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA), C.P. 2223, 69080-971, Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil.

    • E. M. Nogueira
    •  & C. A. Quesada
  42. Universidad Autonoma del Beni, Campus Universitario, Av. Ejército Nacional, Riberalta, Beni, Bolivia.

    • G. Pardo-Molina
    •  & V. A. Vos
  43. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.

    • M. Peña-Claros
    •  & L. Poorter
  44. The Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496, USA.

    • N. C. A. Pitman
  45. Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana, Iquitos, Loreto, Peru.

    • A. Prieto
    •  & F. Ramírez
  46. Instituto de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo Forestal (INDEFOR), Universidad de Los Andes, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Ambientales, Conjunto Forestal, C.P. 5101, Mérida, Venezuela.

    • H. Ramírez-Angulo
    •  & E. Vilanova
  47. Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, 77 High Street Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana.

    • A. Roopsind
  48. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Ciudad Universitaria, Carrera 30 No 45-03, Edificio 425, C.P. 111321, Bogota, Colombia.

  49. Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, Av. Magalhães Barata, 376 - São Braz, CEP 66040-170, Belém PA, Brazil.

    • R. P. Salomão
    •  & I. C. Guimarães Vieira
  50. UFRA, Av. Presidente Tancredo Neves 2501, CEP 66.077-901, Belém, Pará, Brazil.

    • N. Silva
    •  & R. Thomas-Caesar
  51. Museu Universitário, Universidade Federal do Acre, Rio Branco AC 69910-900, Brazil.

    • M. Silveira
  52. European Commission – DG Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Via Enrico Fermi 274, 21010 Ispra, Italy.

    • J. Stropp
  53. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, PO Box, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands.

    • H. ter Steege
  54. Ecology and Biodiversity Group, Utrecht University, PO Box 80084, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands.

    • H. ter Steege
  55. Museo de Historia Natural Alcide D'Orbigny, Av. Potosi no 1458, Cochabamba, Bolivia.

    • J. Teran-Aguilar
  56. School of Earth and Environmental Science, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia.

    • M. Torello-Raventos
  57. Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS) and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia.

    • M. Torello-Raventos
  58. Northumbria University, School of Geography, Ellison Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle NE1 8ST, UK.

    • G. M. F. van der Heijden
  59. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202, USA.

    • G. M. F. van der Heijden
  60. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Panamá, Republic of Panama.

    • G. M. F. van der Heijden
  61. Van der Hout Forestry Consulting, Jan Trooststraat 6, 3078 HP Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

    • P. van der Hout
  62. Universidade Estadual de Campinas, NEPAM, Rua dos Flamboyants, 155- Cidade Universitária Zeferino Vaz, Campinas, CEP 13083-867, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    • S. A. Vieira
  63. Centro de Investigación y Promoción del Campesinado, regional Norte Amazónico, C/ Nicanor Gonzalo Salvatierra N° 362, Casilla 16, Riberalta, Bolivia.

    • V. A. Vos

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Contributions

O.L.P., J.L. and Y.M. conceived the RAINFOR forest census plot network programme, E.G. and T.R.B. contributed to its development. R.J.W.B., O.L.P. and E.G. wrote the paper, R.J.W.B., O.L.P., T.R.F. and E.G. designed the study, R.J.W.B. carried out the data analysis, R.J.W.B., O.L.P., T.R.F., T.R.B., A.M.-M. and G.L.-G. coordinated data collection with the help of most co-authors, G.L.-G., O.L.P., S.L., T.R.B., T.R.F., R.J.W.B., J.T., E.G. and J.L. developed or contributed to analytical tools used in the analysis. All co-authors collected field data and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. J. W. Brienen.

Source data are available from http://dx.doi.org/10.5521/ForestPlots.net/2014_4.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text & Data, Supplementary Tables 1-2 and additional references.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14283

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