Climatic and biotic factors influencing regional declines and recovery of tropical forest biomass from the 2015/16 El Niño

Hui Yang, Philippe Ciais, Jean Pierre Wigneron, Jérôme Chave, Oliver Cartus, Xiuzhi Chen, Lei Fan, Julia K. Green, Yuanyuan Huang, Emilie Joetzjer, Heather Kay, David Makowski, Fabienne Maignan, Maurizio Santoro, Shengli Tao, Liyang Liu, Yitong Yao

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The 2015/16 El Niño brought severe drought and record-breaking temperatures in the tropics. Here, using satellite-based L-band microwave vegetation optical depth, we mapped changes of above-ground biomass (AGB) during the drought and in subsequent years up to 2019. Over more than 60% of drought-affected intact forests, AGB reduced during the drought, except in the wettest part of the central Amazon, where it declined 1 y later. By the end of 2019, only 40% of AGB reduced intact forests had fully recovered to the predrought level. Using random-forest models, we found that the magnitude of AGB losses during the drought was mainly associated with regionally distinct patterns of soil water deficits and soil clay content. For the AGB recovery, we found strong influences of AGB losses during the drought and of γ. γ is a parameter related to canopy structure and is defined as the ratio of two relative height (RH) metrics of Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) waveform data—RH25 (25% energy return height) and RH100 (100% energy return height; i.e., top canopy height). A high γ may reflect forests with a tall understory, thick and closed canopy, and/or without degradation. Such forests with a high γ (γ ≥ 0.3) appear to have a stronger capacity to recover than low-γ ones. Our results highlight the importance of forest structure when predicting the consequences of future drought stress in the tropics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2101388119
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
Early online date22 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2022


  • drought
  • forest structure
  • recovery
  • tropical forest


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