Residence times of woody biomass in tropical forests

David Galbraith, Yadvinder Malhi, Kofi Affum-Baffoe, Andrea D.A. Castanho, Christopher E. Doughty, Rosie A. Fisher, Simon L. Lewis, Kelvin S.H. Peh, Oliver L. Phillips, Carlos A. Quesada, Bonaventure Sonké, Jon Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Background: The woody biomass residence time (τw) of an ecosystem is an important variable for accurately simulating its biomass stocks. Methods and results: We reviewed published data from 177 forest plots across the tropics and found a six-fold variation (23-129 years) in τw across our dataset, with a median τw of ca. 50 years. This value is similar to the median default value across 21 vegetation models for tropical forests, although the range of values used in models is large (20 to 200 years).Conclusions: The notion of a constant τw across all tropical forests may be of limited utility, given the large observed variation in τw. We found that while there was little relationship between climate variables and τw, there was evidence that edaphic factors exerted a strong influence on τw. In both the Neotropics and the Paleotropics, τw was highest in heavily weathered soils, suggesting that low soil fertility and/or non-limiting soil physical conditions exert a critical influence on τw. There is considerable uncertainty in how τw will be affected by global environmental change, especially by increased atmospheric CO2. Even small changes in τw could significantly reduce the future tropical forest carbon sink predicted by many vegetation models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-157
Number of pages19
JournalPlant Ecology and Diversity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • biomass
  • dynamic vegetation models - DVGMs
  • ecosystem models
  • residence time
  • tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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