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Forest-rainfall cascades buffer against drought across the Amazon

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages539543 (2018) | Download Citation


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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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.

Author information


  1. Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Arie Staal
    • , Egbert H. van Nes
    •  & Marten Scheffer
  2. Department of Environmental Sciences, Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Obbe A. Tuinenburg
    •  & Stefan C. Dekker
  3. Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Joyce H. C. Bosmans
  4. Resource Ecology Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • Milena Holmgren
  5. Biodiversity, Macroecology and Biogeography Group, University of Goettingen, Göttingen, Germany

    • Delphine Clara Zemp
  6. Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

    • Delphine Clara Zemp
  7. Faculty of Management, Science and Technology, Open University, Heerlen, The Netherlands

    • Stefan C. Dekker


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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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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arie Staal.

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