Tropical Deciduous Forests

Tropical deciduous forest during the dry season in Piura-Peru.

Definition: Tropical deciduous forests occur in regions with heavy rainfall for part of the year followed by a marked dry season. These forest formations are dense and lush during the wet summers, but become a dry landscape during the dry winters when most trees shed their leaves. Shedding their leaves allows trees to conserve water during dry periods. Bare trees open up the canopy layer, enabling sunlight to reach ground level and facilitate the growth of thick underbrush. Trees use underground water during the dry seasons. These dramatic changes in water availability have a great impact on the plants and animals living in this ecosystem.

Many trees in deciduous forests lose their leaves during the drought period, though trees on moister sites with access to groundwater tend to remain evergreen.

Where do you find Tropical Deciduous Forests

Tropical deciduous forests occur in climates that are warm year-round and may receive several hundred centimeters of rain per year. Though these forests occur in climates that are warm year-round and may receive several hundred centimeters of rain per year, they have long dry seasons which last several months and vary with geographic location.

Broadly speaking tropical deciduous forests occur in drier areas north and south of the tropical rainforest belt, south or north of the subtropical deserts, generally in two bands: one between 10° and 20°N latitude and the other between 10° and 20°S latitude. The most diverse dry forests in the world occur in southern Mexico and in the Bolivian lowlands. The dry forests of the Pacific Coast of northwestern South America support a wealth of unique species due to their dry climate.

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Tropical deciduous forest during the wet season.


dry-Tropical Deciduous Forests
Foto of the same frame as above, but during the dry season.

Biodiversity of the Tropical Deciduous Forest

The dramatic differences between the wet and dry seasons have resulted in many endemic species that have adapted to these extreme conditions. Tropical deciduous forests are less biologically diverse than tropical lowland evergreen Forests. However, the levels of endemism and number of species restricted largely and only to dry forest are proportionally higher. Most dry forest species are restricted to tropical dry forests, particularly in plants. Many of these species display adaptations to this difficult changing climate.


The tropical deciduous forests are sensitive to:

  • Excessive burning
  • Deforestation
  • Overgrazing
  • Exotic species

This ecosystem is sensitive to disturbances, which are particularly challenging to restore given the slow successional vegetative stages under unpredictable and changing conditions within a year and between years.

Conservation of tropical deciduous forests requires preserving large and continuous areas of forest. The inclusion of riparian forests and water sources is critical for many mammal and bird species. Large and continuous areas help to maintain larger predators and help buffer sensitive species from hunting pressure by humans.

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Trees near permanent sources of water retain their leaves for long periods of time.

The Tumbes-Piura Deciduous Forests

The Tumbes-Piura Tropical Deciduous Forest is a sample of arid tropical deciduous forest ecosystem located on the Pacific coasts of southern Ecuador and northern Peru.

The Tumbes-Piura dry forests ecoregion has an area of 4,118,081 hectares (10,176,000 acres). The northern tip is in the southern coastal plain of Ecuador, while most of the ecoregion is in the northwestern coastal plain of Peru. It covers all or part of the regions of Tumbes, Piura, Lambayeque, and Cajamarca in northern Peru.

The ecoregion is part of the 103,000 square kilometers (40,000 sq mi) Tumbesian-Andean Valleys Dry Forests global ecoregion, which holds six terrestrial ecoregions: Tumbes-Piura dry forests, Ecuadorian dry forests, Patía Valley dry forests, Magdalena Valley dry forests, Cauca Valley dry forests and Marañón dry forests. The fauna and flora of the global ecoregion have high levels of endemism.

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WWF – Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forest Ecoregions”.

Neotropical Birds: Ecology and Conservation.  Stotz Douglas F., Fitzpatrick
John W., Parker Theodore A. III, and Moskovits Debra K. University of Chicago Press, 1996.