Tree growth variation in the tropical forest: understanding effects of temperature, rainfall and CO2

P. Schippers*, F.J. Sterck, M. Vlam, P.A. Zuidema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical forest responses to climatic variability have important consequences for global carbon cycling, but are poorly understood. As empirical, correlative studies cannot disentangle the interactive effects of climatic variables on tree growth, we used a tree growth model (IBTREE) to unravel the climate effects on different physiological pathways and in turn on stem growth variation. We parameterized the model for canopy trees of Toona ciliata (Meliaceae) from a Thai monsoon forest and compared predicted and measured variation from a tree-ring study over a 30-year period. We used historical climatic variation of minimum and maximum day temperature, precipitation and carbon dioxide (CO2) in different combinations to estimate the contribution of each climate factor in explaining the inter-annual variation in stem growth. Running the model with only variation in maximum temperature and rainfall yielded stem growth patterns that explained almost 70% of the observed inter-annual variation in stem growth. Our results show that maximum temperature had a strong negative effect on the stem growth by increasing respiration, reducing stomatal conductance and thus mitigating a higher transpiration demand, and – to a lesser extent – by directly reducing photosynthesis. Although stem growth was rather weakly sensitive to rain, stem growth variation responded strongly and positively to rainfall variation owing to the strong inter-annual fluctuations in rainfall. Minimum temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration did not significantly contribute to explaining the inter-annual variation in stem growth. Our innovative approach – combining a simulation model with historical data on tree-ring growth and climate – allowed disentangling the effects of strongly correlated climate variables on growth through different physiological pathways. Similar studies on different species and in different forest types are needed to further improve our understanding of the sensitivity of tropical tree growth to climatic variability and change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2749-2761
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • water-use efficiency
  • global vegetation models
  • woody-tissue respiration
  • leaf-area index
  • elevated co2
  • thermal-acclimation
  • carbon sink
  • scaling relationships
  • stomatal conductance
  • primary productivity


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