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Making forest data fair and open

Data on tropical forests are in high demand. But ground forest measurements are hard to sustain and the people who make them are extremely disadvantaged compared to those who use them. We propose a new approach to forest data that focuses on the needs of data originators, and ensures users and funders contribute properly.

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Fig. 1: Global distributions of per capita gross domestic product and tropical forest area.

Data availability

The data used to produce Fig. 1 are publicly available. Data on gross domestic product and population size are available from the World Bank at Data on tropical forest area (closed, open or fragmented forests) were extracted from the Forests 2000 by Major Ecological Domains grid, provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization at


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The authors thank T. Pennington, F. Costa and A. Vicentini for helpful discussions and comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. For support in making this possible, we thank the Royal Society (International Collaboration Award, ICA\R1\180100), the Leverhulme Trust (APX\R1\191094), NERC (NE/S011811/1 ‘ARBOLES’; NE/T01279X/1 ‘SECO’), São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology (project contract 23/2020/HĐ-NĐT), the Global Land Programme, Missouri Botanical Garden, US National Science Foundation (Award 2020424) and the Peruvian Service for Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP).

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Authors and Affiliations



O.L.P. drafted the initial version of the manuscript with subsequent inputs from R.A.F.d.L. R.A.F.d.L. produced the figures. All authors contributed to discussing the theme, made suggestions and approved the text, along with the following positionality statement. Positionality statement: We, the authors, are all forest researchers working across different disciplines and networks to better understand tropical and subtropical forests and support their sustainable future. Some come from the South and are based in the South, some come from the North and based in the North, and some from the South are based currently in the North. We recognize that labels such as North and South, while useful, simplify complex realities, and are to an extent limited. In our careers we have been originators in the sense of working in the field to establish, identify and/or re-measure forest and savannah plots. We have also worked to get funding to establish and sustain plots, support data management, grow collaborations and do science. Many of us have also benefitted in different ways, including publications, building research groups and achieving professional recognition. Although our experiences, career stages and backgrounds are diverse, we are united by our convictions that the production and the use of forest data must become more equitable, that many less-visible colleagues who contribute vital work need proper recognition, and that fair, long-term collaboration across geographical, socio-economic and cultural divides is essential to build the best outcomes for science and society.

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Correspondence to Renato A. F. de Lima or Oliver L. Phillips.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Rob Crystal-Ornelas and Mariana Chiuffo for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The Distribution of Tropical Forests and National Investments in Research and Development Across the World.

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de Lima, R.A.F., Phillips, O.L., Duque, A. et al. Making forest data fair and open. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 656–658 (2022).

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