Tropical forests, revered for their extraordinary biodiversity, stand as enigmatic realms that have fascinated scientists for decades. In a landmark initiative, a consortium of researchers led by the distinguished scholars at University College London (UCL) has unveiled a pioneering study. This exploration plunges deep into the labyrinth of tropical tree species, unfurling the hidden intricacies of these vital ecosystems. The consequential findings, documented in the esteemed journal Nature, cast a revelatory spotlight on the dominance of a mere 2.2% of tree species.

Within the verdant expanses of tropical forests, where biodiversity weaves a complex tapestry, this international collaboration has illuminated a previously obscured facet. The research, a testament to the meticulous efforts of UCL researchers and their global counterparts, promises to reshape our understanding of these lush ecosystems. As we embark on a journey through this unprecedented study, we unravel the common threads that intricately bind together the diverse inhabitants of tropical forests, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue between science and nature.

Identifying the Common Denominators

Led by Dr. Declan Cooper and Professor Simon Lewis from UCL, a team of 356 scientists embarked on a monumental journey, studying over one million trees across 1,568 locations. The study spanned the diverse landscapes of Africa, the Amazon, and Southeast Asia, revealing a surprising similarity in the distribution of tree diversity. Strikingly, just 2.2% of tree species constitute half of the total trees in these tropical forests.

1,053 Species Rule the Forests

The research estimates that a mere 1,053 tree species out of the staggering 46,000 species present in tropical forests account for 50% of the planet’s 800 billion tropical forest trees. This revelation marks a pivotal moment in our understanding of these ecosystems, emphasizing the dominance of a select few in shaping the overall dynamics of tropical forests.

A Glimpse into the World of Rare Species

While the study sheds light on the common species, it also unveils the extremity of rarity. A staggering 39,500 rare species make up just 10% of the trees in tropical forests. This paradoxical distribution highlights the importance of paying special attention to the conservation of these rare species, even as the focus shifts towards the common ones.

A New Perspective Emerges

Dr. Cooper emphasizes the profound implications of the findings, especially in the context of rapid environmental changes. Understanding the behavior of the most common tree species provides a key to predicting how entire forests will respond to contemporary challenges. Tropical forests, as significant carbon sinks, play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle, making this insight invaluable for future conservation efforts.

Commonality Across Continents

Despite the unique histories and contemporary environments of the Amazon, Africa, and Southeast Asia, the study unveils near-identical patterns of tree diversity. The mechanisms governing the assembly of tree communities appear to transcend geographical and environmental differences. This revelation prompts further exploration into the fundamental mechanisms shaping tropical forests globally.

The Hunt for the Mechanism

The study’s statistical analyses provide estimates of common species without revealing specific names. The researchers employed resampling techniques to compile a list of 1,119 likely names of the common species, marking the first-ever catalog of common trees in the world’s tropical forests. The pursuit of the fundamental mechanism driving these patterns becomes the focus of future research, promising new insights into tropical forest ecology.

A Call for Conservation Focus

In the symphony of tropical forest conservation, Professor Simon Lewis delivers a poignant call for a balanced approach, urging us to navigate the delicate equilibrium between the common and the rare. While the spotlight of scientific inquiry may now shine brightly on the common tree species, Professor Lewis emphasizes that this newfound focus should not cast shadows on the ecological significance of their rarer counterparts.

Recognizing the importance of both ends of the spectrum, the recently compiled list of common species emerges as a powerful instrument for researchers. This catalog serves as more than just a record; it stands as a key to unlocking the intricate secrets of prevalent species, offering a shortcut to understanding the holistic health of tropical forests. In this plea for conservation harmony, Professor Lewis invites the scientific community and environmental advocates to embrace a comprehensive approach, ensuring that the preservation of common species does not eclipse the critical need to protect and study the rare gems that enrich the biodiversity tapestry of these vital ecosystems.


The collaborative effort of 356 scientists has unraveled the secrets hidden within the vast tapestry of tropical forests. The dominance of a select few tree species, shared across continents, challenges our preconceptions and opens new avenues for understanding and conservation. As we navigate an era of environmental change, this study stands as a beacon, guiding us to comprehend the intricate symphony of life within the world’s tropical forests.