Size and frequency of natural forest disturbances and the Amazon forest carbon balance

Fernando D.B. Espírito-Santo, Manuel Gloor, Michael Keller, Yadvinder Malhi, Sassan Saatchi, Bruce Nelson, Raimundo C.Oliveira Junior, Cleuton Pereira, Jon Lloyd, Steve Frolking, Michael Palace, Yosio E. Shimabukuro, Valdete Duarte, Abel Monteagudo Mendoza, Gabriela López-González, Tim R. Baker, Ted R. Feldpausch, Roel J.W. Brienen, Gregory P. Asner, Doreen S. BoydOliver L. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Forest inventory studies in the Amazon indicate a large terrestrial carbon sink. However, field plots may fail to represent forest mortality processes at landscape-scales of tropical forests. Here we characterize the frequency distribution of disturbance events in natural forests from 0.01 ha to 2,651 ha size throughout Amazonia using a novel combination of forest inventory, airborne lidar and satellite remote sensing data. We find that small-scale mortality events are responsible for aboveground biomass losses of ~1.7 Pg C y -1 over the entire Amazon region. We also find that intermediate-scale disturbances account for losses of ~0.2 Pg C y-1, and that the largest-scale disturbances as a result of blow-downs only account for losses of ~0.004 Pg C y-1. Simulation of growth and mortality indicates that even when all carbon losses from intermediate and large-scale disturbances are considered, these are outweighed by the net biomass accumulation by tree growth, supporting the inference of an Amazon carbon sink.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3434
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Mar 18 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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