RAINFOR: The Amazon Forest Inventory Network

Co-Investigators: Please see details on the official RAINFOR project website.

The tropical forests of Amazonia are one of the most important ecosystems on earth, accounting for 45% of the world's tropical forest and storing 40% of the carbon residing in terrestrial vegetation. Relatively small changes in the structure and/or function of these forests could therefore have global consequences for biodiversity, the carbon cycle and the rate of climate change.

Apparently undisturbed tropical forests, remote from areas of deforestation or other significant human influences, have been undergoing unexpected changes. Long-term monitoring of tropical forest plots indicates that tree populations experienced increased rates of mortality and recruitment ("turnover") in the latter part of the last century (Phillips and Gentry 1994; Lewis et al. 2004, Phillips et al. 2004). These plots also show for the tropical Americas that the basal area and biomass of mature forests increased over the same period (Phillips et al. 1998, Baker et al. 2004), suggesting a sink for atmospheric CO2 in Amazonia of 0.3 - 0.7 Pg C per year.

RAINFOR was established to bring together researchers throughout Amazonia who maintain permanent forest sample plots. By compiling and comparing these studies on a regional scale a whole new level of information becomes available: information that provides vital insights into the mechanisms underlying the current responses of Amazonian ecosystems to climate and the possible future of Amazonia under global change scenarios.

The aims of RAINFOR are to:

  • Relate current and recent forest structure, biomass and dynamics to local climate and soil properties
  • Understand the extent to which climate and soils will constrain future changes in forest dynamics and structure
  • Understand the relationships between productivity, mortality, biomass, and biodiversity
  • Explore how changes in climate may affect the biomass and productivity of the Amazon forest as a whole, and inform basin-scale carbon balance models
  • Examine variability of tree biodiversity across Amazonia, and its relationship to soils and climate
  • Train a set of young Amazonian scientists in methodologies for monitoring forest biomass, dynamics, and carbon processes


Project website