Forest-rainfall cascades buffer against drought across the Amazon

Abstract

Tree transpiration in the Amazon may enhance rainfall for downwind forests. Until now it has been unclear how this cascading effect plays out across the basin. Here, we calculate local forest transpiration and the subsequent trajectories of transpired water through the atmosphere in high spatial and temporal detail. We estimate that one-third of Amazon rainfall originates within its own basin, of which two-thirds has been transpired. Forests in the southern half of the basin contribute most to the stability of other forests in this way, whereas forests in the south-western Amazon are particularly dependent on transpired-water subsidies. These forest-rainfall cascades buffer the effects of drought and reveal a mechanism by which deforestation can compromise the resilience of the Amazon forest system in the face of future climatic extremes.

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Fig. 1: Transpiration recycling in the Amazon basin.
Fig. 2: From transpiration to rainfall.
Fig. 3: Effect of Amazonian tree transpiration on rainfall in each of the subregions of the Amazon basin.
Fig. 4: Effect of Amazon tree transpiration on Amazon forest resilience.
Fig. 5: All 0.25° cells in the Amazon basin ranked by their contribution to Amazonian forest resilience through tree transpiration.

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Acknowledgements

We thank C. Xu and H. ter Steege for providing data files. A.S. thanks S. Bathiany and B. M. Flores for useful discussions. A.S. was supported by a PhD scholarship from SENSE Research School. O.A.T. was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research under the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni (grant agreement 016.171.019). E.H.v.N. and M.S. were supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement 643073 (ITN CRITICS). D.C.Z. was supported by IRTG 1740/TRP 2011/50151-0, funded by the DFG and FAPESP. This work was carried out under the programme of the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre.

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A.S., O.A.T. and S.C.D. designed the research. A.S., O.A.T. and J.H.C.B. carried out the analyses. All authors interpreted the results. A.S. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to Arie Staal.

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Staal, A., Tuinenburg, O.A., Bosmans, J.H.C. et al. Forest-rainfall cascades buffer against drought across the Amazon. Nature Clim Change 8, 539–543 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0177-y

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