Drought effects on leaf fall, leaf flushing and stem growth in the Amazon forest: Reconciling remote sensing data and field observations

Thomas Janssen*, Ype Van Der Velde, Florian Hofhansl, Sebastiaan Luyssaert, Kim Naudts, Bart Driessen, Katrin Fleischer, Han Dolman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Large amounts of carbon flow through tropical ecosystems every year, from which a part is sequestered in biomass through tree growth. However, the effects of ongoing warming and drying on tree growth and carbon sequestration in tropical forest is still highly uncertain. Field observations are sparse and limited to a few sites, while remote sensing analysis shows diverging growth responses to past droughts that cannot be interpreted with confidence. To reconcile data from field observations and remote sensing, we collated in situ measurements of stem growth and leaf litterfall from inventory plots across the Amazon region and other neotropical ecosystems. These data were used to train two machine-learning models and to evaluate model performance on reproducing stem growth and litterfall rates. The models utilized multiple climatological variables and other geospatial datasets (terrain, soil and vegetation properties) as explanatory variables. The output consisted of monthly estimates of leaf litterfall (R2Combining double low lineg€¯0.71, NRMSEg€¯Combining double low lineg€¯9.4g€¯%) and stem growth (R2Combining double low lineg€¯0.54, NRMSEg€¯Combining double low lineg€¯10.6g€¯%) across the neotropics from 1982 to 2019 at a high spatial resolution (0.1g ). Modelled time series allow us to assess the impacts of the 2005 and 2015 droughts in the Amazon basin on regional scales. The more severe 2015 drought was estimated to have caused widespread declines in stem growth (-1.8σ), coinciding with enhanced leaf fall (+1.4σ), which were only locally apparent in 2005. Regions in the Amazon basin that flushed leaves at the onset of both droughts (+0.9σg1/4+2.0σ) showed positive anomalies in remotely sensed enhanced vegetation index, while sun-induced fluorescence and vegetation optical depth were reduced. The previously observed counterintuitive response of canopy green-up during drought in the Amazon basin detected by many remote sensing analyses can therefore be a result of enhanced leaf flushing at the onset of a drought. The long-term estimates of leaf litterfall and stem growth point to a decline in stem growth and a simultaneous increase in leaf litterfall in the Amazon basin since 1982. These trends are associated with increased warming and drying of the Amazonian climate and could point to a further decline in the Amazon carbon sink strength.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4445-4472
Number of pages28
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2021

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Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Nether-

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Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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