News Release

Scientists name the commonest tropical tree species for the first time

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University College London

UCL Press Release + table
Under embargo until Wednesday 10 January 2024, 16:00 UK time / 11:00 US Eastern time


A major international collaboration of 356 scientists led by UCL researchers has found almost identical patterns of tree diversity across the world’s tropical forests.

The study of over one million trees across 1,568 locations, published in Nature, found that just 2.2% of tree species make up 50% of the total number of trees in tropical forests across Africa, the Amazon, and Southeast Asia. Each continent consists of the same proportion of a few common species and many rare species.

While tropical forests are famous for their diversity, this is the first time that scientists have studied the commonest trees in the world’s tropical forests.

The scientists estimate that just 1,053 species account for half of the planet’s 800 billion tropical forest trees. The other half are comprised of 46,000 tree species. The number of rare species is extreme, with the rarest 39,500 species accounting for just 10% of trees.

Lead author Dr Declan Cooper (UCL Geography and UCL Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research) said: “Our findings have profound implications for understanding tropical forests. If we focus on understanding the commonest tree species, we can probably predict how the whole forest will respond to today’s rapid environmental changes. This is especially important because tropical forests contain a tremendous amount of stored carbon, and are a globally important carbon sink.”

He continued: “Identifying the prevalence of the most common species gives scientists a new way of looking at tropical forests. Tracking these common species may provide a new way to characterise these forests and in the future possibly gauge a forest’s health more easily.”  

The researchers found strikingly similar patterns in the proportion of tree species that are common, at close to 2.2%, despite the tropical forests of the Amazon, Africa and Southeast Asia each having a unique history and differing contemporary environments.

The Amazon consists of a large region of connected forest, while Southeast Asia is a region of mostly disconnected islands. People only arrived in the Amazon around 20,000 years ago, but people have been living in African and Southeast Asian forests for more than twice that length of time. In terms of the contemporary environment, African forests experience a drier and cooler climate than the other two tropical forest regions. 

Given these striking differences, the near-identical patterns of tree diversity suggests that a fundamental mechanism may govern the assembly of tree communities across all the world’s tropical forests. The researchers are not yet able to say what that mechanism might be and it will focus future work on identifying it.

The estimates of common species derive from statistical analyses, which does not provide the names of the common trees. To overcome this, the scientists used a technique known as resampling to estimate which are the most likely names of the common species. Their list of 1,119 tree species names, the first list of common species of the world’s tropical forests, will allow researchers to focus their efforts on understanding the ecology of these species, which in turn can give scientists a short-cut to understand the whole forest.

See table below for a list of the most common tropical tree species.


Senior author, Professor Simon Lewis (UCL Geography and University of Leeds) said: “We wanted to look at tropical forests in a new way. Focusing on a few hundred common tree species on each continent, rather than the many thousands of species that we know almost nothing about, can open new ways to understand these precious forests. This focus on the commonest species should not take away from the importance of rare species. Rare species need special attention to protect them, but quick and important gains in knowledge will come from a scientific focus on the commonest tree species.”

The researchers assembled forest inventory data from intact tropical forests that hadn’t been affected by logging or fire. In each of 1,568 locations, teams identified and recorded every tree with a trunk greater than 10 centimetres in diameter, in a patch of forest, usually one hectare, which is a square of forest measuring 100 metres on each side.

Professor Lewis has been collecting and collating this data for 20 years. The effort is a collaboration of the largest plot networks across the Amazon (Amazon Tree Diversity Network; RAINFOR), Africa (African Tropical Rainforest Observatory Network, AfriTRON; Central African Plot Network), and Southeast Asia (Slik Diversity Network; T-FORCES), brought together for the first time for the published analysis. 

This collaboration across hundreds of researchers, field assistants, and local communities resulted in a total of 1,003,805 trees sampled, which included 8,493 tree species, across 2,048 hectares, equivalent to almost eight square miles of forest. The teams inventoried 1,097 plots in the Amazon totalling 1,434 hectares, 368 plots in Africa totalling 450 hectares, and 103 plots in Southeast Asia totalling 164 hectares.

This research was supported by the Natural Environmental Research Council.

Most common tropical forest tree species:


Scientific name

Local Names


Gilbertiodendron dewevrei

Limbali, otabo, agbabu, ekpagoi-eze


Greenwayodendron suaveolens

Africa Teak, atorewa, ẹ́wáé, nchua, eleku, agudugbu


Anonidium mannii

Junglesop, imido, asumpa, ọ̀ghẹ́dẹ́gbó


Petersianthus macrocarpus

Stinkwood tree; soap tree abalé, tun-tue, pèh, ésiv, kpa


Santiria trimera

adjouaba à racines aériennes, damzin, an-thanjka, kafe, poh, gólógóló.


Strombosia pustulata

itako, afina, poé, mba esogo


Tabernaemontana crassa

Adam's-apple flower, k-poŋgbo, opuko, patié patié, pete-pete


Staudtia kamerunensis

Niové, ichala, ọbara-okisi, íyìp ókōyò 


Strombosiopsis tetrandra

Bwika, Mbazoo


Dichostemma glaucescens

Mangamba, Mongamba


Oenocarpus bacaba

Bacaba, Turu Palm


Eschweilera coriacea



Iriartea deltoidea



Pentaclethra macroloba



Euterpe oleracea

açaí palm


Astrocaryum murumuru



Geissospermum sericeum

quina-quina branca, pao pereira 


Eperua falcata

bootlace tree, bi udu, wapa


Euterpe precatoria

mountain cabbage; açai, açaizeiro, açaí-do-amazonas, palmiche, wassaï, huasaí, manaca


Rinorea racemosa


Southeast Asia

Shorea multiflora

yellow meranti

Southeast Asia

Tristaniopsis merguensis

Hill Tristania

Southeast Asia

Cotylelobium melanoxylon

Resak hitam; Khiam khaao; Resak tempurong; Giam tembaga

Southeast Asia

Dehaasia caesia

Magasil, Medang

Southeast Asia

Streblus ilicifolius

Jungle Holly, Merlimau

Southeast Asia

Shorea xanthophylla

seraya kuning barun

Southeast Asia

Shorea parvifolia

light red meranti, white lauan

Southeast Asia

Elateriospermum tapos

Perah, Buah Perah, Pogoh Nut, Tapos

Southeast Asia

Ixonanthes reticulata

Pagar Anak, Ten Men Tree, Inggir Burong, Nyiran Burong

Southeast Asia

Gluta oba



Notes to Editors

For more information or to speak to the researchers involved, please contact Michael Lucibella, UCL Media Relations. T: +44 (0)75 3941 0389, E:

Declan Cooper, Simon Lewis, et. al, ‘Consistent patterns of common species across tropical tree communities’ will be published in Nature on Wednesday 10 January 2024, 16:00 UK time, 11:00 US Eastern Time, and is under a strict embargo until this time.

The DOI for this paper will be 10.1038/s41586-023-06820-z

Upon publication, the paper will be available at:

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