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Revealing the causes and temporal distribution of tree mortality in Central Amazonia

  • Author(s): Fontes, CG
  • Chambers, JQ
  • Higuchi, N
  • et al.

Tree mortality is a critical process in forest ecosystems, as it influences floristic composition, structure, dynamics, carbon storage, and forest nutrient cycling. However, the mechanisms behind tree death in tropical regions are still poorly characterized. This lack of information is mainly because tree mortality data come from long-interval inventories and studies that measured tree death seasonally are scarce. Here we offer novel insights into the power of fine temporal scale observations and we use a natural history approach to understand the processes and mechanism of tree mortality. We monitored tree mortality every month during one year, in 10 ha of terra-firme forest. To determine the pathways of mortality, we considered the state of the tree at the start of the investigation and the pre and post-mortem characteristics. From November 2010 to October 2011, 67 out of 5808 trees died. Despite the 2010 drought, mortality was highly correlated with monthly rainfall (r = 0.85). In total, six pathways of mortality were assessed. Storms were the main cause of mortality, killing 45% of all dead trees, followed by Biotic/abiotic factors accounting for 30% of tree mortality. The high mortality registered in the rainy season was mostly (78%) due to healthy trees dying uprooted or snapped. Finally, we would benefit from studies that assess mortality on a monthly basis and in combination with quantitative long-term data, we can substantially improve our understanding of the mechanisms behind tree death in the tropics.

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