Tropical forest response to drought depends on age

Last updated: 5 Mar, 2018

In most of the tropics, droughts are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change. All trees are not created equal, however. Research published in New Phytologist suggests that tropical forests in Panama get better at coping with drought as they get older.


Mario Bretfeld and colleagues at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute used plant water use data to study how tropical forests coped with drought. Their findings are important for understanding how tropical forests will respond to the increasingly severe and frequent droughts predicted by climate change models.


Tropical forest canopy. flickr/cordycepsCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


“Droughts can be really hard on tropical forests. Too much heat, low humidity and not enough water can drastically alter which trees survive,” said Jefferson Hall, staff scientist at STRI and director of the Agua Salud project. “Globally, 2016 registered as the warmest year since climate records have been kept. We took advantage of an especially extended drought during the El Niño event in 2015 and 2016 to measure water use in 76 trees representing more than 40 different species in forests of different ages in the Panama Canal watershed. We found that forest age matters.”


Find out more on the New Phyt blog.


Read the paper: Bretfeld, M., Ewers, B.E., Hall, J.S. (2018) Plant water use responses along secondary forest succession during the 2015/2016 El Niño drought in PanamaNew Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.15071




Mike Whitfield (@mgwhitfield)
Development Coordinator
New Phytologist