Prolonged tropical forest degradation due to compounding disturbances: Implications for CO2 and H2O fluxes

Paulo M. Brando, Divino Silvério, Leonardo Maracahipes-Santos, Claudinei Oliveira-Santos, Shaun R. Levick, Michael T. Coe, Mirco Migliavacca, Jennifer K. Balch, Marcia N. Macedo, Daniel C. Nepstad, Leandro Maracahipes, Eric Davidson, Gregory Asner, Olaf Kolle, Susan Trumbore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Drought, fire, and windstorms can interact to degrade tropical forests and the ecosystem services they provide, but how these forests recover after catastrophic disturbance events remains relatively unknown. Here, we analyze multi-year measurements of vegetation dynamics and function (fluxes of CO2 and H2O) in forests recovering from 7 years of controlled burns, followed by wind disturbance. Located in southeast Amazonia, the experimental forest consists of three 50-ha plots burned annually, triennially, or not at all from 2004 to 2010. During the subsequent 6-year recovery period, postfire tree survivorship and biomass sharply declined, with aboveground C stocks decreasing by 70%–94% along forest edges (0–200 m into the forest) and 36%–40% in the forest interior. Vegetation regrowth in the forest understory triggered partial canopy closure (70%–80%) from 2010 to 2015. The composition and spatial distribution of grasses invading degraded forest evolved rapidly, likely because of the delayed mortality. Four years after the experimental fires ended (2014), the burned plots assimilated 36% less carbon than the Control, but net CO2 exchange and evapotranspiration (ET) had fully recovered 7 years after the experimental fires ended (2017). Carbon uptake recovery occurred largely in response to increased light-use efficiency and reduced postfire respiration, whereas increased water use associated with postfire growth of new recruits and remaining trees explained the recovery in ET. Although the effects of interacting disturbances (e.g., fires, forest fragmentation, and blowdown events) on mortality and biomass persist over many years, the rapid recovery of carbon and water fluxes can help stabilize local climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2855-2868
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019


  • disturbance
  • recovery
  • resilience
  • tropical
  • wildfires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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