In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tropical Humid Forest Biome

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundational Works
  • Historical Accounts
  • Contemporary Views
  • Defining and Describing the Tropical Forest Biome
  • Resources for Identification
  • Evolution of Tropical Forests
  • Tropical Forest Extent and Loss
  • Community Ecology of Tropical Forests
  • Long-Term Studies

Ecology Tropical Humid Forest Biome
Simon A. Queenborough
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0203


Tropical forests, largely restricted between 23.5° south and north of the equator, are famous for both their high biological diversity and high rates of deforestation. The tropical forest biome covers about 22 million km2 of the world’s terrestrial surface (see Matthews, et al. 2000; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2010, both cited under General Overviews). Tropical forests are characterized by a multilayered, angiosperm-dominated canopy, with high species richness and varied life forms (including herbs, shrubs, epiphytes, lianas, and trees). Rainfall seasonality is the primary driver of the four main types of forest physiognomy, along with temperature: Closed canopy rain forest, moist deciduous forest, dry forest and savanna, and upland or montane forest. In this bibliography, we focus mostly on tropical rain forest and tropical humid forest—forest that receives substantial rainfall with or without a dry season—where most research has been conducted. Abundant tree families in the Neotropics include Fabaceae, Arecaceae, and Lecythidaceae, whereas Dipterocarpaceae, Euphorbiaceae, and Meliaceae are abundant in the Paleotropics; dominance by a single species is rare. Tropical forests are estimated to contain at least half of all known plant species. This diversity has led to the intense study of the evolution of diversity, mechanisms of species coexistence, and plant–animal interactions. Tropical forests are usually highly productive and have long been populated by people. However, more recent conversion of tropical forests to arable land and pastures have led to the loss of 0.45 percent per year of tropical forest cover, which has stark implications for forest fragmentation, biodiversity, and climate change (see Ramankutty, et al. 2008, cited under Tropical Forest Extent and Loss; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2010, cited under General Overviews; Malhi, et al. 2014 and Lewis, et al. 2015, both cited under Tropical Forest Extent and Loss).

General Overviews

Tropical forests are complex and dynamic systems. There are many sources that provide a general overview of the tropical forest biome. Kricher 1999 is a good resource for those visiting the tropics for the first time and provides a nice overview of the main concepts and details of natural history, which was expanded by Kricher 2011 into a textbook. Other general readership texts include Janzen 1983 and Terborgh 1991. Moffett 1994 provides a whistle-stop tour of tropical forest research. Walter 1985 (cited under Defining and Describing the Tropical Forest Biome) provides a global view, setting tropical forests in the context of global climate and vegetation, whereas Whitmore 1988 (cited under Defining and Describing the Tropical Forest Biome) and Whitmore 1998 provides a specific tropical forest context. Ashton 2015 (cited under Defining and Describing the Tropical Forest Biome) updates these reviews in the context of Southeast Asia. Matthews, et al. 2000 and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2010 provide global overviews from a more silvicultural, development, and management perspective.

  • Corlett, R. T., and R. B. Primack. 2011. Tropical rain forests: An ecological and biogeographical comparison. 2d ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444392296

    A synthesis of the similarities and differences of the rain forests of America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Madagascar, New Guinea, and oceanic islands.

  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2010. Global forest resources assessment 2010: Main report. FAO Forestry Paper 163. Rome: FAO.

    A compilation of forest data from 233 countries.

  • Ghazoul, J., and D. Sheil. 2010. Tropical rain forest ecology, diversity, and conservation. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book focuses on the ecology and diversity of tropical forests, with a focus on explaining these phenomena. Suitable for a textbook.

  • Janzen, D. H. 1983. Costa Rican natural history. 1st ed. Chicago: Univ. Of Chicago Press.

    One of the first academic treatments of a tropical forest. Dated but a classic and still full of useful natural history information.

  • Kricher, J. 1999. A neotropical companion. 2d rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Focused on the Neotropics, a basic introduction to tropical ecology for the general reader or first-year undergraduate. It was well-received by its intended audience but lacks sufficient detail for a researcher.

  • Kricher, J. 2011. Tropical ecology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    A development of Kricher 1999 intended for a more academic (undergraduate) audience, suitable as a course textbook.

  • Matthews, E., R. Payne, M. Rohweder, and S. Murray. 2000. Pilot analysis of global ecosystems: Forest ecosystems. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

    One of a series of five reports available online from the Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems (PAGE) program. Summarizes information available on the condition of forest ecosystems worldwide. An excellent summary.

  • Moffett, M. 1994. The high frontier: Exploring the tropical rain forest canopy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    A great popular science book that gives an exciting overview of the big questions in tropical ecology as seen from high up in the canopy.

  • Terborgh, J. 1991. Diversity and the tropical rain forest. New York: Scientific American Library.

    An interesting book that provides a considered and thoughtful approach to the big questions of tropical conservation and ecology.

  • Whitmore, T. C. 1998. An introduction to tropical rain forests. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This volume expands on Whitmore 1988 (cited under Defining and Describing the Tropical Forest Biome) to cover the tropical forests of Africa and the Americas.

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