The global extent and distribution of forest trees is central to our understanding of the terrestrial biosphere. We provide the first spatially continuous map of forest tree density at a global scale. This map reveals that the global number of trees is approximately 3.04 trillion, an order of magnitude higher than the previous estimate. Of these trees, approximately 1.30 trillion exist in tropical and subtropical forests, with 0.74 trillion in boreal regions and 0.66 trillion in temperate regions. Biome-level trends in tree density demonstrate the importance of climate and topography in controlling local tree densities at finer scales, as well as the overwhelming effect of humans across most of the world. Based on our projected tree densities, we estimate that over 15 billion trees are cut down each year, and the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 46% since the start of human civilization.
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We thank P. Peterkins for her support throughout the study. We also thank Plant for the Planet for initial discussions and for collaboration during the study. The main project was funded by grants to T.W.C. from the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and the British Ecological Society. We acknowledge various sources for tree density measurements and estimates: the Canadian National Forest Inventory (https://nfi.nfis.org/index.php), the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service for their National Forest Inventory and Analysis (http://fia.fs.fed.us/), the Taiwan Forestry Bureau (which provided the National Vegetation Database of Taiwan), the DFG (German Research Foundation), BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Science of Germany), the Floristic and Forest Inventory of Santa Catarina (IFFSC), the National Vegetation Database of South Africa, and the Chilean research grants FONDECYT no. 1151495. For Europe NFI plot data were brought together with input from J. Rondeux and M. Waterinckx, Belgium, T. Bélouard, France, H. Polley, Germany, W. Daamen and H. Schoonderwoerd, Netherlands, S. Tomter, Norway, J. Villanueva and A. Trasobares, Spain, G. Kempe, Sweden. New Zealand Natural Forest plot data were collected by the LUCAS programme for the Ministry for the Environment (New Zealand) and sourced from the National Vegetation Survey Databank (New Zealand) (http://nvs.landcareresearch.co.nz). We also acknowledge the BCI forest dynamics research project, which was funded by National Science Foundation grants to S. P. Hubbell, support from the Center for Tropical Forest Science, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Small World Institute Fund, numerous private individuals, the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative, and the hard work of hundreds of people from 51 countries over the past two decades. The plot project is part of the Center for Tropical Forest Science, a global network of large-scale demographic tree plots.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
The global tree density map can be found at http://elischolar.library.yale.edu/yale_fes_data/1/.
Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figure 1 Histogram of the collected measurements of forest tree density in each biome around the world (n = 429,775).
The red line and the blue dotted lines indicate the mean and median for the collected data, respectively. Data in each biome fitted a negative binomial error structure.
Extended Data Figure 2 Histogram of the predicted forest tree density values for the locations that density measurements were collected in each biome around the world (n = 429,775).
The red line and the blue dotted lines indicate the mean and median for the collected data, respectively. As our models were based on mean values, the majority of points fall on or close to the mean values in each biome.
Extended Data Figure 3 Histogram of the total predicted forest tree density values for each pixel within each biome around the world (n = 429,775).
This illustrates the spread of pixels throughout each biome, and highlights that our map accounts for the sampling bias in tree density plots (for example, although we had no zero values in our desert plots, the vast majority of desert pixels contain no trees).
The initial map was generated using 14 biome-level models (biomes delineated by The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org) to account for broad-scale variations in terrestrial vegetation types. With several thousand plot-level density measurements in most biomes, this approach provided highly accurate estimates at the global scale. However, to improve precision at the local scale, we also generated a map using ecoregion-scale models. Separate models were generated within each of 813 global ecoregions (also delineated by The Nature Conservancy to reflect smaller-scale vegetation types) using exactly the same statistical approach (see Methods). The same 429,775 data points were used to construct each map. Biome-level and ecoregion-level maps provide total tree estimates of 3.041 and 3.253 trillion trees, respectively.
Summary Table showing the number of plot estimates and total tree numbers (with 95% confidence interval) at the biome and global scale. (XLSX 15 kb)
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Crowther, T., Glick, H., Covey, K. et al. Mapping tree density at a global scale. Nature 525, 201–205 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14967
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