Using a global database, we found that forest turnover rates (the average of tree mortality and recruitment rates) parallel broad-scale patterns of net primary productivity. First, forest turnover was higher in tropical than in temperate forests. Second, as recently demonstrated by others, Amazonian forest turnover was higher on fertile than infertile soils. Third, within temperate latitudes, turnover was highest in angiosperm forests, intermediate in mixed forests, and lowest in gymnosperm forests. Finally, within a single forest physiognomic type, turnover declined sharply with elevation (hence with temperature). These patterns of turnover in populations of trees are broadly similar to the patterns of turnover in populations of plant organs (leaves and roots) found in other studies. Our findings suggest a link between forest mass balance and the population dynamics of trees, and have implications for understanding and predicting the effects of environmental changes on forest structure and terrestrial carbon dynamics.