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Amazonian rainforest tree mortality driven by climate and functional traits

Abstract

Tree mortality appears to be increasing in moist tropical forests1, with potentially important implications for global carbon and water cycles2. Little is known about the drivers of tree mortality in these diverse forests, partly because long-term data are lacking3. The relative importance of climatic factors and species functional traits as drivers of tropical tree mortality are evaluated using a unique dataset in which the survival of over 1,000 rainforest canopy trees from over 200 species has been monitored monthly over five decades in the Central Amazon. We found that drought, as well as heat, storms and extreme rainy years, increase tree mortality for at least two years after the climatic event. Specific functional groups (pioneers, softwoods and evergreens) had especially high mortality during extreme years. These results suggest that predicted climate change will lead to higher tree mortality rates, especially for short-lived species, which may result in faster carbon sequestration but lower carbon storage of tropical forests.

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Fig. 1: Annual tree mortality in 1,019 canopy trees.
Fig. 2: Monthly mortality and climate.
Fig. 3: Mortality across specific traits.
Fig. 4: Important drivers of Amazonian tree mortality.

Data availability

The mortality data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Climate data from Reserva Floresta Adolpho Ducke are available from LBA (http://lba2.inpa.gov.br/) on request. Tree trait data obtained for the current study from the TRY database and Global Wood Density Database can be requested from www.try-db.org and https://datadryad.org//.

Code availability

The R code used to produce the Cox hazard model is available as Supplementary Code.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the researchers V. Campbell de Araújo and J. da Cruz Alencar for implementing the phenological research and selecting the trees at the beginning of the monitoring. Numerous grants have financed more than 50 years of research. We are grateful to the Coordination of Technology and Innovation (COTEI) and Forestry Research Group of Amazon Species at the National Institute of Amazonian Research for providing data, and to the field technicians J. Maciel, M. Azevedo, L. Reis, E. Nascimento and T. Nascimento for conducting field work. We also appreciate contributions from colleagues at the National Institute of Amazonian Research, the Forest Ecology and Management Group at Wageningen University and Research, and the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. We are grateful for the contributions of B. Nelson and S. Saleska during the revision process. I.A. was supported by the PDSE programme (88881.1349/84/2016-01), from the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES).

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I.A., D.N., A.B., L.P. and F.C. planned the study. A.B. and I.A. collected the data. I.A., D.N. and E.P. organized the datasets. L.H., I.A. and L.P. conducted the analyses. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Izabela Aleixo.

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Journal peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Emanuel Gloor, S. Joseph Wright and other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1–7 and Supplementary Code

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Aleixo, I., Norris, D., Hemerik, L. et al. Amazonian rainforest tree mortality driven by climate and functional traits. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 384–388 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0458-0

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