Key canopy traits drive forest productivity

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157 Scopus citations


Quantifying the mechanistic links between carbon fluxes and forest canopy attributes will advance understanding of leaf-to-ecosystem scaling and its potential application to assessing terrestrial ecosystem metabolism. Important advances have been made, but prior studies that related carbon fluxes to multiple canopy traits are scarce. Herein, presenting data for 128 cold temperate and boreal forests across a regional gradient of 600 km and 5.4°C (from 2.4°C to 7.8°C) in mean annual temperature, I show that stand-scale productivity is a function of the capacity to harvest light (represented by leaf area index, LAI), and to bio chemically fix carbon (represented by canopy nitrogen concentration, %N). In combination, LAI and canopy %N explain greater than 75 per cent of variation in above-ground net primary productivity among forests, expressed per year or per day of growing season. After accounting for growing season length and climate effects, less than 10 per cent of the variance remained unexplained. These results mirror similar relations of leaf-scale and canopy-scale (eddy covariance) maximum photo-synthetic rates to LAI and %N. Collectively, these findings indicate that canopy structure and chemistry translate from instantaneous physiology to annual carbon fluxes. Given the increasing capacity to remotely sense canopy LAI, %N and phonology, these results support the idea that physiologically based scaling relations can be useful tools for global modeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2128-2134
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1736
StatePublished - Jun 7 2012


  • Climate
  • Leaf area index
  • Nitrogen
  • Phonology
  • Scaling


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