Sensitivity of South American tropical forests to an extreme climate anomaly

Amy C. Bennett*, Adriane Esquivel-Muelbert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The tropical forest carbon sink is known to be drought sensitive, but it is unclear which forests are the most vulnerable to extreme events. Forests with hotter and drier baseline conditions may be protected by prior adaptation, or more vulnerable because they operate closer to physiological limits. Here we report that forests in drier South American climates experienced the greatest impacts of the 2015–2016 El Niño, indicating greater vulnerability to extreme temperatures and drought. The long-term, ground-measured tree-by-tree responses of 123 forest plots across tropical South America show that the biomass carbon sink ceased during the event with carbon balance becoming indistinguishable from zero (−0.02 ± 0.37 Mg C ha−1 per year). However, intact tropical South American forests overall were no more sensitive to the extreme 2015–2016 El Niño than to previous less intense events, remaining a key defence against climate change as long as they are protected.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-974
Number of pages26
JournalNature Climate Change
Early online date4 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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