Self-amplified Amazon forest loss due to vegetation-atmosphere feedbacks
Reduced rainfall increases the risk of forest dieback, while in return forest loss might intensify regional droughts. The consequences of this vegetation-atmosphere feedback for the stability of the Amazon forest are still unclear. Here we show that the risk of self-amplified Amazon forest loss increases nonlinearly with dry-season intensification. We apply a novel complex-network approach, in which Amazon forest patches are linked by observation-based atmospheric water fluxes. Our results suggest that the risk of self-amplified forest loss is reduced with increasing heterogeneity in the response of forest patches to reduced rainfall. Under dry-season Amazonian rainfall reductions, comparable to Last Glacial Maximum conditions, additional forest loss due to self-amplified effects occurs in 10-13% of the Amazon basin. Although our findings do not indicate that the projected rainfall changes for the end of the twenty-first century will lead to complete Amazon dieback, they suggest that frequent extreme drought events have the potential to destabilize large parts of the Amazon forest.