dead tree

Tree Mortality & Damage


Despite its importance in the global carbon cycling (Pan et al., 2011; Requena Suarez et al., 2019), our ability to predict how tropical forests will respond to the ongoing global environmental changes remains poorly understood (Friedlingstein et al., 2006; Cavaleri et al., 2015; Smith et al., 2016). This is partially attributed to the poor representation of tree mortality in vegetation demographic models (Longo et al., 2019; Pugh et al., 2020). In order to expand the data available for developing and testing mechanistic models of tree mortality, we designed a protocol to perform frequent tree damage and death assessments across the ForestGEO network. While we focus on large forest plots, the protocol herein aims to assess factors at the stem-level and, thus, can be used as a guide to asses tree vigor and death in smaller forest plots or projects with different tree sampling designs.

The sampling design adopted in ForestGEO plots, the description and rationale of the variables collected in each tree, and other relevant aspects were published in "Tree death and damage: a standardized protocol for frequent surveys in tropical forests" by Arellano, Zuleta, & Davies.  Contact Gabriel Arellano ( or Daniel Zuleta ( for specific questions regarding the protocol.

This work is part of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics, funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

Example datasheets for fieldwork: in English | in Spanish
Protocol for fieldwork: in English | in Spanish


Arellano, G., Zuleta, D., & Davies, S. J. (2020). Tree death and damage: a standardized protocol for frequent surveys in tropical forests. Journal of Vegetation Science, e12981.

Cavaleri MA, Reed SC, Smith WK, Wood TE. 2015. Urgent need for warming experiments in tropical forests. Global Change Biology21: 2111–2121.

Friedlingstein P, Betts R, Bopp L, Bloh W Von, Brovkin V, Doney S, Eby M, Fung I, Govindasamy B, John J, et al. 2006. Climate –carbon cycle feedback analysis, results from the C4MIP model intercomparison. Journal of Climate19: 3337–3353.

Longo M, Knox RG, Medvigy DM, Levine NM, Dietze MC, Kim Y, Swann ALS, Zhang K, Rollinson CR, Bras RL, et al. 2019. The biophysics, ecology, and biogeochemistry of functionally diverse, vertically and horizontally heterogeneous ecosystems: The Ecosystem Demography model, version 2.2-Part 1: Model description. Geoscientific Model Development, 12: 4309–4346.

Pan Y, Birdsey RA, Fang J, Houghton R, Kauppi PE, Kurz WA, Phillips OL, Shvidenko A, Lewis SL, Canadell JG, et al. 2011. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world’s forests. Science, 333: 988–93.

Pugh TAM, Rademacher TT, Shafer SL, Steinkamp J, Barichivich J, Beckage B, Vanessa H, Heinke J, Nishina K, Rammig A, et al. 2020. Understanding the uncertainty in global forest carbon turnover. Biogeosciences Discussions: 1–44.

Requena Suarez D, Rozendaal DMA, De Sy V, Phillips OL, Alvarez-Dávila E, Anderson-Teixeira K, Araujo-Murakami A, Arroyo L, Baker TR, Bongers F, et al. 2019. Estimating aboveground net biomass change for tropical and subtropical forests: Refinement of IPCC default rates using forest plot data. Global Change Biology, 25: 3609–3624.

Smith WK, Reed SC, Cleveland CC, Ballantyne AP, Anderegg WRL, Wieder WR, Liu YY, Running SW. 2016. Large divergence of satellite and Earth system model estimates of global terrestrial CO2 fertilization. Nature Climate Change, 6: 306–310.