Tree crown damage and its effects on forest carbon cycling in a tropical forest

Crown damage can account for over 23% of canopy biomass turnover in tropical forests and is a strong predictor of tree mortality; yet, it is not typically represented in vegetation models. We incorporate crown damage into the Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator (FATES), to evaluate how lags between damage and tree recovery or death alter demographic rates and patterns of carbon turnover. We represent crown damage as a reduction in a tree's crown area and leaf and branch biomass, and allow associated variation in the ratio of aboveground to belowground plant tissue. We compare simulations with crown damage to simulations with equivalent instant increases in mortality and benchmark results against data from Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. In FATES, crown damage causes decreases in growth rates that match observations from BCI. Crown damage leads to increases in carbon starvation mortality in FATES, but only in configurations with high root respiration and decreases in carbon storage following damage. Crown damage also alters competitive dynamics, as plant functional types that can recover from crown damage outcompete those that cannot. This is a first exploration of the trade-off between the additional complexity of the novel crown damage module and improved predictive capabilities. At BCI, a tropical forest that does not experience high levels of disturbance, both the crown damage simulations and simulations with equivalent increases in mortality does a reasonable job of capturing observations. The crown damage module provides functionality for exploring dynamics in forests with more extreme disturbances such as cyclones and for capturing the synergistic effects of disturbances that overlap in space and time.

Jessica F. Needham, Gabriel Arellano, Stuart J. Davies, Rosie A. Fisher, Valerie Hammer, Ryan G. Knox, David Mitre, Helene C. Muller-Landau, Daniel Zuleta, & Charlie D. Koven
Global Change Biology