Vegetation-rainfall feedback in the Amazon

The distribution of rainfall and vegetation are closely interconnected in the Amazon region. On the one hand, rainforests maintain atmospheric humidity by evapotranspiration, which contributes to regional rainfall. On the other hand, high rainfall maintains resilience of rainforests.

Schematic representation of cascading effects in the vegetation–rainfall system. (Source: Zemp et al. Nature Communications, 2017)

Under the supervision of Prof. Anja Rammig, I developed a novel methodological framework based on complex networks to quantify cascading effects in the Amazonian forest-rainfall system.

We first showed the importance of cascading moisture recycling, which describes atmospheric moisture transport involving re-evaporation cycles along the way.

On the importance of cascading moisture reycycling in South America. (Source: Zemp et al., 2015, poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Tropical Ecology (GTÖ) in Zürich. See also: Zemp et al. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2014 )


Climate change, in particular increasing dry season, could disturb these vegetation-rainfall interactions. We showed that this would amplify the drought, and threaten the Amazon forest even more.

Similarly, continued deforestation will alter the climate and reduce the ecological integrity of the entire Amazon forest.


Effect of deforestation on climate and Amazon forest resilience. (Source: Zemp et al. Geophysical Research Letters, 2017.)


But there is hope ! By mapping which areas contributes most to the stability of the Amazon system, we can put priority in protecting these areas that would keep the forest-rainfall feedback loops alive.

Contribution to Amazon forest resilience. Source: Staal et al,, Nature Climate Change 2018


See here the publications.

Funding (2012-2016):

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