ENSO Drives interannual variation of forest woody growth across the tropics

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Meteorological extreme events such as El Niño events are expected to affect tropical forest net primary production (NPP) and woody growth, but there has been no large-scale empirical validation of this expectation. We collected a large high-temporal resolution dataset (for 1-13 years depending upon location) of more than 172 000 stem growth measurements using dendrometer bands from across 14 regions spanning Amazonia, Africa and Borneo in order to test how much month-to-month variation in stand-level woody growth of adult tree stems (NPPstem) can be explained by seasonal variation and interannual meteorological anomalies. A key finding is that woody growth responds differently to meteorological variation between tropical forests with a dry season (where monthly rainfall is less than 100 mm), and aseasonal wet forests lacking a consistent dry season. In seasonal tropical forests, a high degree of variation in woody growth can be predicted from seasonal variation in temperature, vapour pressure deficit, in addition to anomalies of soil water deficit and shortwave radiation. The variation of aseasonal wet forest woody growth is best predicted by the anomalies of vapour pressure deficit, water deficit and shortwave radiation. In total, we predict the total live woody production of the global tropical forest biome to be 2.16 Pg C yr-1, with an interannual range 1.96-2.26 Pg C yr-1 between 1996-2016, and with the sharpest declines during the strong El Niño events of 1997/8 and 2015/6. There is high geographical variation in hotspots of El Niño-associated impacts, with weak impacts in Africa, and strongly negative impacts in parts of Southeast Asia and extensive regions across central and eastern Amazonia. Overall, there is high correlation (r = -0.75) between the annual anomaly of tropical forest woody growth and the annual mean of the El Niño 3.4 index, driven mainly by strong correlations with anomalies of soil water deficit, vapour pressure deficit and shortwave radiation.This article is part of the discussion meeting issue 'The impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on the terrestrial tropical carbon cycle: patterns, mechanisms and implications'.


  • Sami W. Rifai
  • Cécile A.J. Girardin
  • Erika Berenguer
  • Jhon Del Aguila-Pasquel
  • Cecilia A.L. Dahlsjö
  • Christopher E. Doughty
  • Kathryn J. Jeffery
  • Sam Moore
  • Imma Oliveras
  • Terhi Riutta
  • Lucy M. Rowland
  • Alejandro Araujo Murakami
  • Shalom D. Addo-Danso
  • Paulo Brando
  • Chad Burton
  • Fidèle Evouna Ondo
  • Akwasi Duah-Gyamfi
  • Filio Farfán Amézquita
  • Renata Freitag
  • Fernando Hancco Pacha
  • Walter Huaraca Huasco
  • Forzia Ibrahim
  • Armel T. Mbou
  • Vianet Mihindou Mihindou
  • Karine S. Peixoto
  • Wanderley Rocha
  • Liana C. Rossi
  • Marina Seixas
  • Javier E. Silva-Espejo
  • Katharine A. Abernethy
  • Stephen Adu-Bredu
  • Jos Barlow
  • Antonio C.L. da Costa
  • Beatriz S. Marimon
  • Ben H. Marimon-Junior
  • Patrick Meir
  • Oliver L. Phillips
  • Lee J.T. White
  • Yadvinder Malhi
External organisations
  • University of Oxford
  • Lancaster University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • University of Stirling
  • Institut de Recherche en Écologie Tropicale
  • National Agency for National Parks
  • University of Exeter
  • Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado
  • Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG)
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • State University Of Mato Grosso (UNIMAT)
  • Ministère de la Forêt et de l'Environnement, Gabon
  • São Paulo State University
  • Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation
  • Universidad de La Serena
  • Australian National University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Leeds
  • Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP)
  • Gabriel René Moreno Autonomous University
  • Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM)
  • National University of Saint Anthony the Abbot in Cuzco
  • Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change
  • Federal University of Pará
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • drought, El Niño, meteorological anomalies, tropical forests, woody net primary production
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1760
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch