Collection |

Forests in the Anthropocene

Forests are multifaceted ecosystems that perform an array of essential functions that both directly and indirectly impact humanity. They act as a nexus of the Earth system’s climate, hydrology and biogeochemical cycles. This function is all the more relevant in the Anthropocene, an epoch characterised by humanity’s impact on our planet, given the vast amounts of carbon locked up in tree biomass that help buffer against anthropogenic carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Forests are also hubs of biodiversity that provide essential resources and services to communities, but they are vulnerable to degradation and deforestation. The study of forests, which also includes their restoration, conservation and sustainable use, thus encompasses a broad suite of scientific disciplines, and research in this field is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary.

This collection has been curated by the Earth science and Ecology editorial teams at Nature Communications in the hope that it will provide a helpful resource for researchers and decision makers in this increasingly interdisciplinary field. The collection is divided into four themes: climate-forest feedbacks, the forest-human interface, the forest carbon sink, and communities and ecosystems. This collection will be updated with new research and opinion pieces on a regular basis.

The editorial accompanying this collection discusses our evolving history with forests and how science can guide us towards living sustainably with these key ecosystems. 

Climate-forest feedbacks

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The productivity of boreal forests in Eastern North America is predicted to increase with warming under sufficient moisture supply. Here D’Orangeville et al. study seven tree species and predict that growth enhancements may be seen up to 2 °C warming, but would decline if temperatures exceed this.

    • Loïc D’Orangeville
    • , Daniel Houle
    • , Louis Duchesne
    • , Richard P. Phillips
    • , Yves Bergeron
    •  &  Daniel Kneeshaw
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The effect of plants on future extreme heat events under elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) is unclear. Here, the authors show that CO2 plant physiological effects lead to increases in heat waves within a suite of climate model simulations, suggesting that vegetated areas are at risk of increased heat extremes.

    • Christopher B. Skinner
    • , Christopher J. Poulsen
    •  &  Justin S. Mankin
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    It has been suggested that tree phenology may be regulated by climatic oscillations. Here, Detto et al. present a 30 year tropical forest dataset that suggests leaf and fruit production is coordinated with ENSO cycles, with greater leaf fall observed prior to El Niño followed by greater seed production.

    • Matteo Detto
    • , S. Joseph Wright
    • , Osvaldo Calderón
    •  &  Helene C. Muller-Landau
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Depending on where and when it occurs, vegetation cover change can affect local climate by altering the surface energy balance. Based on satellite data, this study provides the first data-driven assessment of such effects for multiple vegetation transitions at global scale.

    • Gregory Duveiller
    • , Josh Hooker
    •  &  Alessandro Cescatti
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Deforestation carbon emissions from the Brazilian Amazon have declined steeply, but how much drought-induced forest fire emissions add to this process is still unclear. Here the authors show that gross emissions from forest fires are more than half as great as those from deforestation during drought years.

    • Luiz E. O. C. Aragão
    • , Liana O. Anderson
    • , Marisa G. Fonseca
    • , Thais M. Rosan
    • , Laura B. Vedovato
    • , Fabien H. Wagner
    • , Camila V. J. Silva
    • , Celso H. L. Silva Junior
    • , Egidio Arai
    • , Ana P. Aguiar
    • , Jos Barlow
    • , Erika Berenguer
    • , Merritt N. Deeter
    • , Lucas G. Domingues
    • , Luciana Gatti
    • , Manuel Gloor
    • , Yadvinder Malhi
    • , Jose A. Marengo
    • , John B. Miller
    • , Oliver L. Phillips
    •  &  Sassan Saatchi
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Plant growing season increases under a warming climate, but it is not known whether this will alter plant exposure to frost days. Here Liu et al. investigate trends in the Northern Hemisphere over 30 years and find increased exposure to frost days in regions that have longer growing seasons.

    • Qiang Liu
    • , Shilong Piao
    • , Ivan A. Janssens
    • , Yongshuo Fu
    • , Shushi Peng
    • , Xu Lian
    • , Philippe Ciais
    • , Ranga B. Myneni
    • , Josep Peñuelas
    •  &  Tao Wang

The forest-human interface

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Rainforest conversion to plantations driven by global demand for agricultural products generates high environmental costs. Here, the authors show that the high oil palm plantation production efficiency is associated with decreased carbon storage and slower organic matter cycling that affect ecosystem services.

    • Thomas Guillaume
    • , Martyna M. Kotowska
    • , Dietrich Hertel
    • , Alexander Knohl
    • , Valentyna Krashevska
    • , Kukuh Murtilaksono
    • , Stefan Scheu
    •  &  Yakov Kuzyakov
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Expansion of rubber plantations threatens tropical forest carbon stocks and biodiversity, but may be dis-incentivised using carbon finance. Here, Warren-Thomas et al. use forest and agricultural data for Cambodia to show that carbon prices of $30–$51 per tCO2 are needed to match forest protection costs.

    • Eleanor M. Warren-Thomas
    • , David P. Edwards
    • , Daniel P. Bebber
    • , Phourin Chhang
    • , Alex N. Diment
    • , Tom D. Evans
    • , Frances H. Lambrick
    • , James F. Maxwell
    • , Menghor Nut
    • , Hannah J. O’Kelly
    • , Ida Theilade
    •  &  Paul M. Dolman
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Afforestation is often used to increase terrestrial carbon sequestration and restore ecosystem services. Here, the authors show that afforestation can also neutralize soil pH by lowering pH in alkaline soil but raising pH in acid soil, thus further promoting the restoration of ecosystem functions.

    • Songbai Hong
    • , Shilong Piao
    • , Anping Chen
    • , Yongwen Liu
    • , Lingli Liu
    • , Shushi Peng
    • , Jordi Sardans
    • , Yan Sun
    • , Josep Peñuelas
    •  &  Hui Zeng
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The expansion of agriculture and rangelands can cause ecological spillover effects across cultivated-natural ecosystem boundaries. Here, Luskin et al. show irruptions of oil palm-subsidized wild boar alter the abundance and diversity of understory trees >1 km into a primary forest reserve in Malaysia.

    • Matthew Scott Luskin
    • , Justin S. Brashares
    • , Kalan Ickes
    • , I-Fang Sun
    • , Christine Fletcher
    • , S. Joseph Wright
    •  &  Matthew D. Potts

The forest carbon sink

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Forests of the Amazon Basin have experienced frequent and severe droughts in recent years with significant impacts on their carbon cycling. Here, using satellite LiDAR samples from 2003 to 2008, the authors show the long-term legacy of these droughts with persistent loss of carbon stocks after the 2005 drought.

    • Yan Yang
    • , Sassan S. Saatchi
    • , Liang Xu
    • , Yifan Yu
    • , Sungho Choi
    • , Nathan Phillips
    • , Robert Kennedy
    • , Michael Keller
    • , Yuri Knyazikhin
    •  &  Ranga B. Myneni
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Degradation—the loss of carbon stored in intact woodland—is very difficult to measure over large areas. Here, the authors show that carbon emissions from degradation in African woodlands greatly exceed those from deforestation, but are happening alongside widespread increases in biomass in remote areas.

    • Iain M. McNicol
    • , Casey M. Ryan
    •  &  Edward T. A. Mitchard
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The recovery of North American forests is likely to impact their capacity as a carbon sink. Here, Zhu et al. show a growth in aboveground biomass in various climate change scenarios, with these forests expected to sequester no more than 22% more carbon than current levels by the 2080s.

    • Kai Zhu
    • , Jian Zhang
    • , Shuli Niu
    • , Chengjin Chu
    •  &  Yiqi Luo
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Invasive alien pests can cause large-scale forest mortality and release carbon stored in forests. Here the authors show that climate change increases the potential range of alien pests and that their impact on the carbon cycle could be as severe as the current natural disturbance regime in Europe’s forests.

    • Rupert Seidl
    • , Günther Klonner
    • , Werner Rammer
    • , Franz Essl
    • , Adam Moreno
    • , Mathias Neumann
    •  &  Stefan Dullinger
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    The existence of a pan-tropical forest carbon sink remains uncertain due to the lack of data from Asia. Here, using direct on-the-ground observations, the authors confirm remaining intact forests in Borneo have provided a long-term carbon sink, but carbon net gains are vulnerable to drought and edge effects.

    • Lan Qie
    • , Simon L. Lewis
    • , Martin J. P. Sullivan
    • , Gabriela Lopez-Gonzalez
    • , Georgia C. Pickavance
    • , Terry Sunderland
    • , Peter Ashton
    • , Wannes Hubau
    • , Kamariah Abu Salim
    • , Shin-Ichiro Aiba
    • , Lindsay F. Banin
    • , Nicholas Berry
    • , Francis Q. Brearley
    • , David F. R. P. Burslem
    • , Martin Dančák
    • , Stuart J. Davies
    • , Gabriella Fredriksson
    • , Keith C. Hamer
    • , Radim Hédl
    • , Lip Khoon Kho
    • , Kanehiro Kitayama
    • , Haruni Krisnawati
    • , Stanislav Lhota
    • , Yadvinder Malhi
    • , Colin Maycock
    • , Faizah Metali
    • , Edi Mirmanto
    • , Laszlo Nagy
    • , Reuben Nilus
    • , Robert Ong
    • , Colin A. Pendry
    • , Axel Dalberg Poulsen
    • , Richard B. Primack
    • , Ervan Rutishauser
    • , Ismayadi Samsoedin
    • , Bernaulus Saragih
    • , Plinio Sist
    • , J. W. Ferry Slik
    • , Rahayu Sukmaria Sukri
    • , Martin Svátek
    • , Sylvester Tan
    • , Aiyen Tjoa
    • , Mark van Nieuwstadt
    • , Ronald R. E. Vernimmen
    • , Ishak Yassir
    • , Petra Susan Kidd
    • , Muhammad Fitriadi
    • , Nur Khalish Hafizhah Ideris
    • , Rafizah Mat Serudin
    • , Layla Syaznie Abdullah Lim
    • , Muhammad Shahruney Saparudin
    •  &  Oliver L. Phillips
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Reliable estimates of the total forest carbon (C) pool are lacking due to insufficient information on dead organic matter (DOM). Here, the authors estimate that the current DOM C stock in China is 925 ± 54 Tg and that it grew by 6.7 ± 2.2 Tg C/yr over the past two decades primarily due to increasing forest area

    • Jianxiao Zhu
    • , Huifeng Hu
    • , Shengli Tao
    • , Xiulian Chi
    • , Peng Li
    • , Lai Jiang
    • , Chengjun Ji
    • , Jiangling Zhu
    • , Zhiyao Tang
    • , Yude Pan
    • , Richard A. Birdsey
    • , Xinhua He
    •  &  Jingyun Fang

Communities and ecosystems

  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Biodiversity change can impact ecosystem functioning, though this is primarily studied at lower trophic levels. Here, Schuldt et al. find that biodiversity components other than tree species richness are particularly important, and higher trophic level diversity plays a role in multifunctionality.

    • Andreas Schuldt
    • , Thorsten Assmann
    • , Matteo Brezzi
    • , François Buscot
    • , David Eichenberg
    • , Jessica Gutknecht
    • , Werner Härdtle
    • , Jin-Sheng He
    • , Alexandra-Maria Klein
    • , Peter Kühn
    • , Xiaojuan Liu
    • , Keping Ma
    • , Pascal A. Niklaus
    • , Katherina A. Pietsch
    • , Witoon Purahong
    • , Michael Scherer-Lorenzen
    • , Bernhard Schmid
    • , Thomas Scholten
    • , Michael Staab
    • , Zhiyao Tang
    • , Stefan Trogisch
    • , Goddert von Oheimb
    • , Christian Wirth
    • , Tesfaye Wubet
    • , Chao-Dong Zhu
    •  &  Helge Bruelheide
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    As remote sensing technology improves, it is now possible to map fine-scale variation in plant functional traits. Schneider et al. remotely sense tree functional diversity, validate with field data, and reveal patterns of plant adaptation to the environment previously not retrievable from plot data

    • Fabian D. Schneider
    • , Felix Morsdorf
    • , Bernhard Schmid
    • , Owen L. Petchey
    • , Andreas Hueni
    • , David S. Schimel
    •  &  Michael E. Schaepman
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Earth system model simulations of future climate in the Amazon show little agreement. Here, the authors show that biases in internally generated climate explain most of this uncertainty and that the balance between water-saturated and water-limited evapotranspiration controls the Amazon resilience to climate change.

    • Anders Ahlström
    • , Josep G. Canadell
    • , Guy Schurgers
    • , Minchao Wu
    • , Joseph A. Berry
    • , Kaiyu Guan
    •  &  Robert B. Jackson
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Deforestation and edge effects around cleared areas impact forest stability. Here, the authors examine human impacts on Amazonian forest-savanna bistability and show that tree cover bimodality is enhanced in regions close to human activities and is nearly absent in regions unaffected by human activities.

    • Bert Wuyts
    • , Alan R. Champneys
    •  &  Joanna I. House
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Dust is an important nutrient source to landscapes, but often the source of dust is poorly constrained. Here, the authors quantify the origin of different dust sources in the Sierra Nevada by analysing dust composition and suggest exogenic dust may drive nutrient budgets in montane ecosystems.

    • S. M. Aciego
    • , C. S. Riebe
    • , S. C. Hart
    • , M. A. Blakowski
    • , C. J. Carey
    • , S. M. Aarons
    • , N. C. Dove
    • , J. K. Botthoff
    • , K. W. W. Sims
    •  &  E. L. Aronson
  • Nature Communications | Article | open

    Invasive brown treesnakes decimated the forest bird community on the island of Guam. Now, Rogers and colleagues document the indirect effects of the snake on trees, linking snake-initiated bird loss to reduced seed dispersal and plant recruitment on Guam compared to nearby uninvaded islands.

    • Haldre S. Rogers
    • , Eric R. Buhle
    • , Janneke HilleRisLambers
    • , Evan C. Fricke
    • , Ross H. Miller
    •  &  Joshua J. Tewksbury