Drought-mortality relationships for tropical forests

Oliver L. Phillips (Lead / Corresponding author), Geertje van der Heijden, Simon L. Lewis, Gabriela López-González, Luiz E. O. C. Aragão, Jon Lloyd, Yadvinder Malhi, Abel Monteagudo, Samuel Almeida, Esteban Alvarez Dávila, Iêda Amaral, Sandy Andelman, Ana Andrade, Luzmila Arroyo, Gerardo Aymard, Tim R. Baker, Lilian Blanc, Damien Bonal, Átila Cristina Alves de Oliveira, Kuo Jung ChaoNallaret Dávila Cardozo, Lola da Costa, Ted R. Feldpausch, Joshua B. Fisher, Nikolaos M. Fyllas, Maria Aparecida Freitas, David Galbraith, Emanuel Gloor, Niro Higuchi, Eurídice Honorio, Eliana Jiménez, Helen Keeling, Tim J. Killeen, Jon C. Lovett, Patrick Meir, Casimiro Mendoza, Alexandra Morel, Percy Núñez Vargas, Sandra Patiño, Kelvin S-H Peh, Antonio Peña Cruz, Adriana Prieto, Carlos A. Quesada, Fredy Ramírez, Hirma Ramírez, Agustín Rudas, Rafael Salamão, Michael Schwarz, Javier Silva, Marcos Silveira, J. W. Ferry Slik, Bonaventure Sonké, Anne Sota Thomas, Juliana Stropp, James R.D. Taplin, Rodolfo Vásquez, Emilio Vilanova

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    431 Citations (Scopus)


    The rich ecology of tropical forests is intimately tied to their moisture status. Multi-site syntheses can provide a macro-scale view of these linkages and their susceptibility to changing climates. Here, we report pan-tropical and regional-scale analyses of tree vulnerability to drought. 

    We assembled available data on tropical forest tree stem mortality before, during, and after recent drought events, from 119 monitoring plots in 10 countries concentrated in Amazonia and Borneo. 

    In most sites, larger trees are disproportionately at risk. At least within Amazonia, low wood density trees are also at greater risk of drought-associated mortality, independent of size. For comparable drought intensities, trees in Borneo are more vulnerable than trees in the Amazon. There is some evidence for lagged impacts of drought, with mortality rates remaining elevated 2 yr after the meteorological event is over.

    These findings indicate that repeated droughts would shift the functional composition of tropical forests toward smaller, denser-wooded trees. At very high drought intensities, the linear relationship between tree mortality and moisture stress apparently breaks down, suggesting the existence of moisture stress thresholds beyond which some tropical forests would suffer catastrophic tree mortality.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)631-646
    Number of pages16
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


    • Amazon
    • Borneo
    • Drought
    • Lags
    • Mortality
    • Trees
    • Tropics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physiology
    • Plant Science


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