Satellite-derived forest canopy greenness shows differential drought vulnerability of secondary forests compared to primary forests in Peru

Brian R. Zutta, Norma Salinas, Eric G. Cosio, Richard Tito, Susan Aragón, Alex Nina-Quispe, Rosa Maria Roman-Cuesta

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Understanding tropical secondary forest canopy greenness and responses to climatic conditions is important for climate change mitigation, particularly in the tropics where secondary forest growth is a substantial carbon sink and a promoted natural climate solution. We here test three hypotheses: (a) forest canopy greenness is higher in younger, secondary forests than in older, primary or mature forests, (b) secondary forests are more vulnerable to climatic pressures and (c) there are significant differences between forest types regarding primary-secondary canopy greenness and their differential responses to drought anomalies. To explore these relationships, we monitored wet and dry seasonal greenness from 2001 to 2020, estimated through the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), of Peruvian tropical dry, montane and lowland secondary forests and compared it to nearby primary forests. We developed predictive models of seasonal EVI using remotely sensed variables, including land surface temperature (LST), evapotranspiration (ET), potential evapotranspiration (PET), ratio of ET and PET (ETn), and the standard precipitation index (SPI). Overall, there was a higher change in annual and seasonal EVI for secondary forests compared to primary forests. However, primary forests maintained relatively stable EVI levels during the wet season despite drought anomalies. When decoupling forest type canopy greenness and drought response, primary forest greenness in dry and lowland ecosystems were temporally more stable. Secondary montane had a lower increase in greenness when drought anomalies held during different seasons. Stepwise multiple linear regression models indicated that LST and ETn, a plant water use index, were the most significant factors to predict greening fluctuations in dry and montane forest types. ET and SPI mostly drove wet season mean EVI across all forest types. Predictors of dry season mean EVI varied, but mostly including water availability. Our results suggest that tropical secondary forests are more productive overall yet more vulnerable to prolonged drought.

Original languageEnglish
Article number064004
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • climate response
  • drought
  • evapotranspiration
  • land surface temperature
  • nature climate solutions
  • secondary forests
  • tropical forest greenness


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