Global buffering of temperatures under forest canopies

Abstract

Macroclimate warming is often assumed to occur within forests despite the potential for tree cover to modify microclimates. Here, using paired measurements, we compared the temperatures under the canopy versus in the open at 98 sites across 5 continents. We show that forests function as a thermal insulator, cooling the understory when ambient temperatures are hot and warming the understory when ambient temperatures are cold. The understory versus open temperature offset is magnified as temperatures become more extreme and is of greater magnitude than the warming of land temperatures over the past century. Tree canopies may thus reduce the severity of warming impacts on forest biodiversity and functioning.

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Fig. 1: Forests buffer temperatures under canopies globally.
Fig. 2: Forest temperature offsets under canopies are negatively related to warming air temperatures and dependent on the biome.

Data availability

The datasets and code generated and analysed during the current study are available in the figshare repository37, with the identifier 10.6084/m9.figshare.7604849.

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Acknowledgements

P.D.F. received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (ERC Starting Grant FORMICA 757833). K.V. received funding through ERC Consolidator Grant PASTFORWARD 614839. F.R.-S. was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (FPD-2013-16756). F.Z. was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project 172198). M.V. was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada.

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P.D.F., F.Z. and J.L. conceived and designed the research. P.D.F., F.Z., J.L. and F.R.-S. assembled and revised the database and analysed the data. All authors compiled data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Pieter De Frenne.

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De Frenne, P., Zellweger, F., Rodríguez-Sánchez, F. et al. Global buffering of temperatures under forest canopies. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 744–749 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0842-1

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