Research Summary: Predicting Maximum Tree Heights and Other Traits from Allometric Scaling and Resource Limitations

ABSTRACT

Terrestrial vegetation plays a central role in regulating the carbon and water cycles, and adjusting planetary albedo. As such, a clear understanding and accurate characterization of vegetation dynamics is critical to understanding and modeling the broader climate system. Maximum tree height is an important feature of forest vegetation because it is directly related to the overall scale of many ecological and environmental quantities and is an important indicator for understanding several properties of plant communities, including total standing biomass and resource use. We present a model that predicts local maximal tree height across the entire continental United States, in good agreement with data. The model combines scaling laws, which encode the average, base-line behavior of many tree characteristics, with energy budgets constrained by local resource limitations, such as precipitation, temperature and solar radiation. In addition to predicting maximum tree height in an environment, our framework can be extended to predict how other tree traits, such as stomatal density, depend on these resource constraints. Furthermore, it offers predictions for the relationship between height and whole canopy albedo, which is important for understanding the Earth’s radiative budget, a critical component of the climate system. Because our model focuses on dominant features, which are represented by a small set of mechanisms, it can be easily integrated into more complicated ecological or climate models.

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Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 13-June-2011

Author(s): Kempes C., West G., Crowell K., Girvan M.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020551

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