Fluvial systems in tropical regions are not only the lifeline for modern civilizations there but also form an important continental archive for reconstructing Quaternary palaeoclimates and palaeoenvironments. Tropical rivers drain through a variety of geological and geomorphological settings across the world and have been studied for their hydrology, sediment transport characteristics, facies models, stratigraphic development and flood hazards. This paper presents an overview of the research on tropical rivers globally and identifies major gaps and unanswered research questions. As a part of the IGCP 582 on Tropical Rivers, the participants of this project are continuing to tackle many of these issues. The collection of papers in this special issue is an outcome of this activity and presents new data on processes and alluvial stratigraphy of the tropical rivers from China, India, South America and northern Australia.