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Biomass change in an Atlantic tropical moist forest: the ENSO effect in permanent sample plots over a 22-year period

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There are a number of controversies surrounding both biomass estimation and carbon balance in tropical forests. Here we use long-term (from 1978 through 2000) data from five 0.5-ha permanent sample plots (PSPs) within a large tract of relatively undisturbed Atlantic moist forest in southeastern Brazil to quantify the biomass increment (ΔMI), and change in total stand biomass (ΔMstand), from mortality, recruitment, and growth data for trees ≥10 cm diameter at breast height (DBH). Despite receiving an average of only 1,200 mm annual precipitation, total forests biomass (334.5±11.3 Mg ha−1) was comparable to moist tropical forests with much greater precipitation. Over this relatively long-term study, forest biomass experienced rapid declines associated with El Niño events, followed by gradual biomass accumulation. Over short time intervals that overlook extreme events, these dynamics can be misinterpreted as net biomass accumulation. However for the 22 years of this study, there was a small reduction in forest biomass, averaging −1.2 Mg ha−1 year−1 (±3.1). Strong climatic disturbances can severely reduce forest biomass, and if the frequency and intensity of these events increases beyond historical averages, these changing disturbance regimes have the capacity to significantly reduce forest biomass, resulting in a net source of carbon to the atmosphere.

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We are grateful to the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce for providing research support. We also thank C. Zartman and two anonymous reviewers for many constructive comments and suggestions on the manuscript, as well as all field technicians for their efforts.

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Correspondence to Samir G. Rolim.

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Rolim, S.G., Jesus, R.M., Nascimento, H.E.M. et al. Biomass change in an Atlantic tropical moist forest: the ENSO effect in permanent sample plots over a 22-year period. Oecologia 142, 238–246 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1717-x

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  • Disturbance
  • Climate change
  • ENSO
  • Drought
  • Tree mortality