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Concept: Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Amazon forests, which store ∼50% of tropical forest carbon and play a vital role in global water, energy, and carbon cycling, are predicted to experience both longer and more intense dry seasons by the end of the 21st century. However, the climate sensitivity of this ecosystem remains uncertain: several studies have predicted large-scale die-back of the Amazon, whereas several more recent studies predict that the biome will remain largely intact. Combining remote-sensing and ground-based observations with a size- and age-structured terrestrial ecosystem model, we explore the sensitivity and ecological resilience of these forests to changes in climate. We demonstrate that water stress operating at the scale of individual plants, combined with spatial variation in soil texture, explains observed patterns of variation in ecosystem biomass, composition, and dynamics across the region, and strongly influences the ecosystem’s resilience to changes in dry season length. Specifically, our analysis suggests that in contrast to existing predictions of either stability or catastrophic biomass loss, the Amazon forest’s response to a drying regional climate is likely to be an immediate, graded, heterogeneous transition from high-biomass moist forests to transitional dry forests and woody savannah-like states. Fire, logging, and other anthropogenic disturbances may, however, exacerbate these climate change-induced ecosystem transitions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Functional redundancy has been debated largely in ecology and conservation, yet we lack detailed empirical studies on the roles of functionally similar species in ecosystem function. Large bodied frugivores may disperse similar plant species and have strong impact on plant recruitment in tropical forests. The two largest frugivores in the neotropics, tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) and muriquis (Brachyteles arachnoides) are potential candidates for functional redundancy on seed dispersal effectiveness. Here we provide a comparison of the quantitative, qualitative and spatial effects on seed dispersal by these megafrugivores in a continuous Brazilian Atlantic forest.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Biogeography, Great American Interchange, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


For half a century, the process of economic integration of the Amazon has been based on intensive use of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources, which has brought significant basin-wide environmental alterations. The rural development in the Amazonia pushed the agricultural frontier swiftly, resulting in widespread land-cover change, but agriculture in the Amazon has been of low productivity and unsustainable. The loss of biodiversity and continued deforestation will lead to high risks of irreversible change of its tropical forests. It has been established by modeling studies that the Amazon may have two “tipping points,” namely, temperature increase of 4 °C or deforestation exceeding 40% of the forest area. If transgressed, large-scale “savannization” of mostly southern and eastern Amazon may take place. The region has warmed about 1 °C over the last 60 y, and total deforestation is reaching 20% of the forested area. The recent significant reductions in deforestation-80% reduction in the Brazilian Amazon in the last decade-opens up opportunities for a novel sustainable development paradigm for the future of the Amazon. We argue for a new development paradigm-away from only attempting to reconcile maximizing conservation versus intensification of traditional agriculture and expansion of hydropower capacity-in which we research, develop, and scale a high-tech innovation approach that sees the Amazon as a global public good of biological assets that can enable the creation of innovative high-value products, services, and platforms through combining advanced digital, biological, and material technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in progress.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Forest, Sustainability, Tropical rainforest, Global warming, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Deforestation


Mining poses significant and potentially underestimated risks to tropical forests worldwide. In Brazil’s Amazon, mining drives deforestation far beyond operational lease boundaries, yet the full extent of these impacts is unknown and thus neglected in environmental licensing. Here we quantify mining-induced deforestation and investigate the aspects of mining operations, which most likely contribute. We find mining significantly increased Amazon forest loss up to 70 km beyond mining lease boundaries, causing 11,670 km(2) of deforestation between 2005 and 2015. This extent represents 9% of all Amazon forest loss during this time and 12 times more deforestation than occurred within mining leases alone. Pathways leading to such impacts include mining infrastructure establishment, urban expansion to support a growing workforce, and development of mineral commodity supply chains. Mining-induced deforestation is not unique to Brazil; to mitigate adverse impacts of mining and conserve tropical forests globally, environmental assessments and licensing must considered both on- and off-lease sources of deforestation.

Concepts: Forest, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest


Defaunation is causing declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees in tropical forests worldwide, but whether and how these declines will affect carbon storage across this biome is unclear. Here we show, using a pan-tropical data set, that simulated declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees have contrasting effects on aboveground carbon stocks across Earth’s tropical forests. In our simulations, African, American and South Asian forests, which have high proportions of animal-dispersed species, consistently show carbon losses (2-12%), but Southeast Asian and Australian forests, where there are more abiotically dispersed species, show little to no carbon losses or marginal gains (±1%). These patterns result primarily from changes in wood volume, and are underlain by consistent relationships in our empirical data (∼2,100 species), wherein, large-seeded animal-dispersed species are larger as adults than small-seeded animal-dispersed species, but are smaller than abiotically dispersed species. Thus, floristic differences and distinct dispersal mode-seed size-adult size combinations can drive contrasting regional responses to defaunation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Southeast Asia, Plant, Tropics, Asia, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Extinction rates in the Anthropocene are three orders of magnitude higher than background and disproportionately occur in the tropics, home of half the world’s species. Despite global efforts to combat tropical species extinctions, lack of high-quality, objective information on tropical biodiversity has hampered quantitative evaluation of conservation strategies. In particular, the scarcity of population-level monitoring in tropical forests has stymied assessment of biodiversity outcomes, such as the status and trends of animal populations in protected areas. Here, we evaluate occupancy trends for 511 populations of terrestrial mammals and birds, representing 244 species from 15 tropical forest protected areas on three continents. For the first time to our knowledge, we use annual surveys from tropical forests worldwide that employ a standardized camera trapping protocol, and we compute data analytics that correct for imperfect detection. We found that occupancy declined in 22%, increased in 17%, and exhibited no change in 22% of populations during the last 3-8 years, while 39% of populations were detected too infrequently to assess occupancy changes. Despite extensive variability in occupancy trends, these 15 tropical protected areas have not exhibited systematic declines in biodiversity (i.e., occupancy, richness, or evenness) at the community level. Our results differ from reports of widespread biodiversity declines based on aggregated secondary data and expert opinion and suggest less extreme deterioration in tropical forest protected areas. We simultaneously fill an important conservation data gap and demonstrate the value of large-scale monitoring infrastructure and powerful analytics, which can be scaled to incorporate additional sites, ecosystems, and monitoring methods. In an era of catastrophic biodiversity loss, robust indicators produced from standardized monitoring infrastructure are critical to accurately assess population outcomes and identify conservation strategies that can avert biodiversity collapse.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Tropics, Forest, Extinction, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


State-controlled protected areas (PAs) have dominated conservation strategies globally, yet their performance relative to other governance regimes is rarely assessed comprehensively. Furthermore, performance indicators of forest PAs are typically restricted to deforestation, although the extent of forest degradation is greater. We address these shortfalls through an empirical impact evaluation of state PAs, Indigenous Territories (ITs), and civil society and private Conservation Concessions (CCs) on deforestation and degradation throughout the Peruvian Amazon. We integrated remote-sensing data with environmental and socio-economic datasets, and used propensity-score matching to assess: (i) how deforestation and degradation varied across governance regimes between 2006-2011; (ii) their proximate drivers; and (iii) whether state PAs, CCs and ITs avoided deforestation and degradation compared with logging and mining concessions, and the unprotected landscape. CCs, state PAs, and ITs all avoided deforestation and degradation compared to analogous areas in the unprotected landscape. CCs and ITs were on average more effective in this respect than state PAs, showing that local governance can be equally or more effective than centralized state regimes. However, there were no consistent differences between conservation governance regimes when matched to logging and mining concessions. Future impact assessments would therefore benefit from further disentangling governance regimes across unprotected land.

Concepts: Evaluation, Assessment, Rainforest, Amazon Basin, Peru, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest, Peruvian Amazon


Gold mining has rapidly increased in western Amazonia, but the rates and ecological impacts of mining remain poorly known and potentially underestimated. We combined field surveys, airborne mapping, and high-resolution satellite imaging to assess road- and river-based gold mining in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon from 1999 to 2012. In this period, the geographic extent of gold mining increased 400%. The average annual rate of forest loss as a result of gold mining tripled in 2008 following the global economic recession, closely associated with increased gold prices. Small clandestine operations now comprise more than half of all gold mining activities throughout the region. These rates of gold mining are far higher than previous estimates that were based on traditional satellite mapping techniques. Our results prove that gold mining is growing more rapidly than previously thought, and that high-resolution monitoring approaches are required to accurately quantify human impacts on tropical forests.

Concepts: Amazon River, Tropical rainforest, Amazon Basin, Recession, Peru, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Madre de Dios Region, Peruvian Amazon


Several independent lines of evidence suggest that Amazon forests have provided a significant carbon sink service, and also that the Amazon carbon sink in intact, mature forests may now be threatened as a result of different processes. There has however been no work done to quantify non-land-use-change forest carbon fluxes on a national basis within Amazonia, or to place these national fluxes and their possible changes in the context of the major anthropogenic carbon fluxes in the region. Here we present a first attempt to interpret results from ground-based monitoring of mature forest carbon fluxes in a biogeographically, politically, and temporally differentiated way. Specifically, using results from a large long-term network of forest plots, we estimate the Amazon biomass carbon balance over the last three decades for the different regions and nine nations of Amazonia, and evaluate the magnitude and trajectory of these differentiated balances in relation to major national anthropogenic carbon emissions.

Concepts: Climate change, Amazon River, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest, Slash and burn, Peruvian Amazon


Knowledge about the biogeographic affinities of the world’s tropical forests helps to better understand regional differences in forest structure, diversity, composition, and dynamics. Such understanding will enable anticipation of region-specific responses to global environmental change. Modern phylogenies, in combination with broad coverage of species inventory data, now allow for global biogeographic analyses that take species evolutionary distance into account. Here we present a classification of the world’s tropical forests based on their phylogenetic similarity. We identify five principal floristic regions and their floristic relationships: (i) Indo-Pacific, (ii) Subtropical, (iii) African, (iv) American, and (v) Dry forests. Our results do not support the traditional neo- versus paleotropical forest division but instead separate the combined American and African forests from their Indo-Pacific counterparts. We also find indications for the existence of a global dry forest region, with representatives in America, Africa, Madagascar, and India. Additionally, a northern-hemisphere Subtropical forest region was identified with representatives in Asia and America, providing support for a link between Asian and American northern-hemisphere forests.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Forest, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests