A global climate niche for giant trees

Marten Scheffer*, Chi Xu, Stijn Hantson, Milena Holmgren, Sietse O. Los, Egbert H. van Nes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Rainforests are among the most charismatic as well as the most endangered ecosystems of the world. However, although the effects of climate change on tropical forests resilience is a focus of intense research, the conditions for their equally impressive temperate counterparts remain poorly understood, and it remains unclear whether tropical and temperate rainforests have fundamental similarities or not. Here we use new global data from high precision laser altimetry equipment on satellites to reveal for the first time that across climate zones ‘giant forests’ are a distinct and universal phenomenon, reflected in a separate mode of canopy height (~40 m) worldwide. Occurrence of these giant forests (cutoff height > 25 m) is negatively correlated with variability in rainfall and temperature. We also demonstrate that their distribution is sharply limited to situations with a mean annual precipitation above a threshold of 1,500 mm that is surprisingly universal across tropical and temperate climates. The total area with such precipitation levels is projected to increase by ~4 million km2 globally. Our results thus imply that strategic management could in principle facilitate the expansion of giant forests, securing critically endangered biodiversity as well as carbon storage in selected regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2875-2883
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • alternative ecosystem state
  • canopy height
  • LiDAR
  • precipitation temperate rainforest
  • remote sensing
  • resilience
  • threshold
  • tropical rainforest

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