Long-term thermal sensitivity of Earth’s tropical forests

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • ForestPlots

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of Geography, University College London
  • Mensuration Unit, Forestry Commission of Ghana, Kumasi, Ghana.
  • Embrapa Roraima, Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), Brasília, Brazil.
  • Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA), Manaus, Brazil.
  • Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK.
  • Faculté de Gestion de Ressources Naturelles Renouvelables, Université de Kisangani, Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Department of Environment, Laboratory of Wood Technology (Woodlab), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
  • UNEMAT - Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, Nova Xavantina-MT, Brazil.
  • Jardín Botánico de Missouri, Oxapampa, Peru.
  • School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK.
  • Plant Systematics and Ecology Laboratory, Higher Teachers’ Training College, University of Yaoundé I, Yaoundé, Cameroon.
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Exeter
  • Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
  • Faculty of Environmental Earth Science, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
  • University of Kent
  • Instituto de Biodiversidade e Florestas, Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará, Santarém - PA, Brazil.
  • Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, Cáceres - MT, Brazil.
  • Escuela de Ciencias Agrícolas, Pecuarias y del Medio Ambiente, National Open University and Distance, Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
  • Projeto Dinâmica Biológica de Fragmentos Florestais, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus, Brazil.
  • Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, SP, Brazil.
  • National Institute for Space Research (INPE), São José dos Campos, SP, Brazil.
  • Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
  • Wageningen Environmental Research, Wageningen, Netherlands.
  • Dirección de la Carrera de Biología, Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
  • Programa de Ciencias del Agro y el Mar, Herbario Universitario, Guanare, Venezuela.
  • Departamento de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Amazonas, Manaus, Brazil.
  • UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, Penicuik, UK.
  • International Center for Tropical Botany, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA.
  • Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil.
  • Lancaster University
  • Centro Multidisciplinar, Universidade Federal do Acre, Cruzeiro do Sul, AC, Brazil.
  • Department of Environment, Computational and Applied Vegetation Ecology (CAVELab), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
  • Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, USA.
  • Service of Wood Biology, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.
  • UR Forest and Societies, CIRAD, Montpellier, France.
  • Isotope Bioscience Laboratory (ISOFYS), Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
  • Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, University of Liège, Liège, Belgium.
  • UMR Silva, INRAE, Nancy, France.


The sensitivity of tropical forest carbon to climate is a key uncertainty in predicting global climate change. Although short-term drying and warming are known to affect forests, it is unknown if such effects translate into long-term responses. Here, we analyze 590 permanent plots measured across the tropics to derive the equilibrium climate controls on forest carbon. Maximum temperature is the most important predictor of aboveground biomass (-9.1 megagrams of carbon per hectare per degree Celsius), primarily by reducing woody productivity, and has a greater impact per °C in the hottest forests (>32.2°C). Our results nevertheless reveal greater thermal resilience than observations of short-term variation imply. To realize the long-term climate adaptation potential of tropical forests requires both protecting them and stabilizing Earth's climate.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-874
Number of pages6
Issue number6493
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2020

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