Published July 24, 2023 | Version v1
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Tropical forests are mainly unstratified especially in Amazonia and regions with lower fertility or higher temperatures

  • 1. Northern Arizona University
  • 2. Aarhus University
  • 3. University of Oxford
  • 4. National University of Singapore


The stratified nature of tropical forest structure had been noted by early explorers, but until recent use of satellite-based LiDAR (GEDI, or Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation LiDAR), it was not possible to quantify stratification across all tropical forests. Understanding stratification is important because by some estimates, a majority of the world's species inhabit tropical forest canopies. Stratification can modify vertical microenvironment, and thus can affect a species' susceptibility to anthropogenic climate change. Here we find that, based on analyzing each GEDI 25m diameter footprint in tropical forests (after screening for human impact), most footprints (60-90%) do not have multiple layers of vegetation. The most common forest structure has a minimum plant area index (PAI) at ~40m followed by an increase in PAI until ~15m followed by a decline in PAI to the ground layer (described hereafter as a one peak footprint). There are large geographic patterns to forest structure within the Amazon basin (ranging between 60–90% one peak) and between the Amazon (79 ± 9 % sd) and SE Asia or Africa (72 ± 14 % v 73 ±11 %). The number of canopy layers is significantly correlated with tree height (r2=0.12) and forest biomass (r2=0.14). Environmental variables such as maximum temperature (Tmax) (r2=0.05), vapor pressure deficit (VPD) (r2=0.03) and soil fertility proxies (e.g. total cation exchange capacity - r2=0.01) were also statistically significant but less strongly correlated given the complex and heterogeneous local structural to regional climatic interactions. Certain boundaries, like the Pebas Formation and Ecoregions, clearly delineate continental scale structural changes. More broadly, deviation from more ideal conditions (e.g. lower fertility or higher temperatures) leads to shorter, less stratified forests with lower biomass.


Funding provided by: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: 80NSSC19K0206


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Is cited by
10.1088/2752-664x/ace723 (DOI)