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Predictions of how tropical forests respond to climate change are needed over timescales of decades and centuries. However, our ability to assess changes over long timescales is limited by the amount of time we have been able to observe systems. Relating spatial variation in ecological variables to environmental gradients provides a space-for-time substitution potentially providing insights into these longer-term responses.


The aboveground carbon stocks, rate of aboveground wood production and carbon residence time was assessed in 590 forest plots located across the tropical rainforest biome. Spatial variation in these variables was related to environmental variation.


Carbon stocks declined with increasing daytime temperature, with the rate of decline steepening in the hottest forests. Carbon stocks also increased with dry season precipitation. Thus carbon stocks were lowest in the hottest and driest forests.


Our estimate thermal sensitivity of tropical forests is lower than some studies using inter-annual variation, but lies within the range of temperature sensitivities of CMIP5 models. Many areas of South American forest are expected to reduce in carbon stocks under moderate future warming, even after accounting for CO2 fertilisation.


Climate change, Carbon stock, Forest dynamics

Martin Sullivan

Presentation within symposium:

S-15 Tropical montane ecosystems: biodiversity, carbon and climate change

Using space-for-time substitutions to infer the long-term climate sensitivity of tropical forests


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