Tree species in tropical rain forests exhibit a rich panoply of spatial patterns that beg ecological explanation. The analysis of tropical census data typically relies on spatial statistics, which quantify the average aggregation tendency of a species. In this article we develop a cluster-based approach that complements traditional spatial statistics in the exploration and analysis of ecological hypotheses for spatial pattern. We apply this technique to six study species within a fully mapped 50-ha forest census in peninsular Malaysia. For each species we identify the scale(s) of spatial aggregation and the corresponding tree clusters. We study the correlation between cluster locations and abiotic variables such as topography. We find that the distribution of cluster sizes exhibits equilibrium and nonequilibrium behavior depending on species life history. The distribution of tree diameters within clusters also varies according to species life history. At different spatial scales, we find evidence for both niche-based and dispersal-limited processes producing spatial pattern. Our methodology for identifying scales of aggregation and clusters is general; we discuss the method's applicability to spatial problems outside of tropical plant ecology.
The responses of tropical forests to global anthropogenic disturbances remain poorly understood. Above-ground woody biomass in some tropical forest plots has increased over the past several decades, potentially reflecting a widespread response to increased resource availability, for example, due to elevated atmospheric CO2 and/or nutrient deposition. However, previous studies of biomass dynamics have not accounted for natural patterns of disturbance and gap phase regeneration, making it difficult to quantify the importance of environmental changes. Using spatially explicit census data from large (50 ha) inventory plots, we investigated the influence of gap phase processes on the biomass dynamics of four 'old-growth' tropical forests (Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama; Pasoh and Lambir, Malaysia; and Huai Kha Khaeng (HKK), Thailand). We show that biomass increases were gradual and concentrated in earlier-phase forest patches, while biomass losses were generally of greater magnitude but concentrated in rarer later-phase patches. We then estimate the rate of biomass change at each site independent of gap phase dynamics using reduced major axis regressions and ANCOVA tests. Above-ground woody biomass increased significantly at Pasoh (+0.72% yr(-1)) and decreased at HKK (-0.56% yr(-1)) independent of changes in gap phase but remained stable at both BCI and Lambir. We conclude that gap phase processes play an important role in the biomass dynamics of tropical forests, and that quantifying the role of gap phase processes will help improve our understanding of the factors driving changes in forest biomass as well as their place in the global carbon budget.
In Amazonian tropical forests, recent studies have reported increases in aboveground biomass and in primary productivity, as well as shifts in plant species composition favouring fast-growing species over slow-growing ones. This pervasive alteration of mature tropical forests was attributed to global environmental change, such as an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, nutrient deposition, temperature, drought frequency, and/or irradiance. We used standardized, repeated measurements of over 2 million trees in ten large (16-52 ha each) forest plots on three continents to evaluate the generality of these findings across tropical forests. Aboveground biomass increased at seven of our ten plots, significantly so at four plots, and showed a large decrease at a single plot. Carbon accumulation pooled across sites was significant (+0.24 MgC ha(-1) y(-1), 95% confidence intervals [0.07, 0.39] MgC ha(-1) y(-1)), but lower than reported previously for Amazonia. At three sites for which we had data for multiple census intervals, we found no concerted increase in biomass gain, in conflict with the increased productivity hypothesis. Over all ten plots, the fastest-growing quartile of species gained biomass (+0.33 [0.09, 0.55] % y(-1)) compared with the tree community as a whole (+0.15 % y(-1)); however, this significant trend was due to a single plot. Biomass of slow-growing species increased significantly when calculated over all plots (+0.21 [0.02, 0.37] % y(-1)), and in half of our plots when calculated individually. Our results do not support the hypothesis that fast-growing species are consistently increasing in dominance in tropical tree communities. Instead, they suggest that our plots may be simultaneously recovering from past disturbances and affected by changes in resource availability. More long-term studies are necessary to clarify the contribution of global change to the functioning of tropical forests.
Remote sensing is revolutionizing the way we study forests, and recent technological advances mean we are now able - for the first time - to identify and measure the crown dimensions of individual trees from airborne imagery. Yet to make full use of these data for quantifying forest carbon stocks and dynamics, a new generation of allometric tools which have tree height and crown size at their centre are needed. Here, we compile a global database of 108753 trees for which stem diameter, height and crown diameter have all been measured, including 2395 trees harvested to measure aboveground biomass. Using this database, we develop general allometric models for estimating both the diameter and aboveground biomass of trees from attributes which can be remotely sensed - specifically height and crown diameter. We show that tree height and crown diameter jointly quantify the aboveground biomass of individual trees and find that a single equation predicts stem diameter from these two variables across the world's forests. These new allometric models provide an intuitive way of integrating remote sensing imagery into large-scale forest monitoring programmes and will be of key importance for parameterizing the next generation of dynamic vegetation models.
Tropical forests are global centres of biodiversity and carbon storage. Many tropical countries aspire to protect forest to fulfil biodiversity and climate mitigation policy targets, but the conservation strategies needed to achieve these two functions depend critically on the tropical forest tree diversity-carbon storage relationship. Assessing this relationship is challenging due to the scarcity of inventories where carbon stocks in aboveground biomass and species identifications have been simultaneously and robustly quantified. Here, we compile a unique pan-tropical dataset of 360 plots located in structurally intact old-growth closed-canopy forest, surveyed using standardised methods, allowing a multi-scale evaluation of diversity-carbon relationships in tropical forests. Diversity-carbon relationships among all plots at 1 ha scale across the tropics are absent, and within continents are either weak (Asia) or absent (Amazonia, Africa). A weak positive relationship is detectable within 1 ha plots, indicating that diversity effects in tropical forests may be scale dependent. The absence of clear diversity-carbon relationships at scales relevant to conservation planning means that carbon-centred conservation strategies will inevitably miss many high diversity ecosystems. As tropical forests can have any combination of tree diversity and carbon stocks both require explicit consideration when optimising policies to manage tropical carbon and biodiversity.