skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Is there tree senescence? The fecundity evidence

Despite its importance for forest regeneration, food webs, and human economies, changes in tree fecundity with tree size and age remain largely unknown. The allometric increase with tree diameter assumed in ecological models would substantially overestimate seed contributions from large trees if fecundity eventually declines with size. Current estimates are dominated by overrepresentation of small trees in regression models. We combined global fecundity data, including a substantial representation of large trees. We compared size–fecundity relationships against traditional allometric scaling with diameter and two models based on crown architecture. All allometric models fail to describe the declining rate of increase in fecundity with diameter found for 80% of 597 species in our analysis. The strong evidence of declining fecundity, beyond what can be explained by crown architectural change, is consistent with physiological decline. A downward revision of projected fecundity of large trees can improve the next generation of forest dynamic models.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1655896 1745496 1754668 1754647 2025755 1754443 1754656
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Publisher / Repository:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Article No. e2106130118
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Forest tree communities are largely structured by interactions between phenotypes and their environments. Functional traits have been popularized as providing key insights into plant functional tradeoffs. Similarly, tree crown—stem diameter and tree height—stem diameter allometric relationships are likely to be strongly coordinated with functional trait tradeoff axes. Specifically, species with functional traits indicative of conservative strategies (i.e., dense wood, heavy seeds) should be related to tree architectures that have lower heights and wider crowns for a given stem diameter. For example, shade‐tolerant species in tropical forests are typically characterized as having dense wood, large seeds, and relatively broad crowns at early ontogenetic stages. Here, we focus on 14 dominant dicot tree species in a tropical forest. We utilized hierarchical Bayesian models to characterize species‐specific height and crown size allometric parameters. We sampled from the posterior distributions for these parameters and correlated them with six functional traits. We also characterize the expected height and crown size for a series of reference stem diameters to quantify the relationship between traits and tree architecture across size classes. We find little interspecific variation in allometric slopes, but clear variation in allometric intercepts. Allometeric height intercepts were negatively correlated with wood density and crown size intercepts were positively related to wood density and seed mass and negatively related to leaf percent phosphorus. Thus, interspecific variation in tree architecture is generated by interspecific variation in allometric intercepts and not slopes. These intercepts could be predicted using a handful of functional traits where conservative traits were indicative of trees that are relatively short and have larger crown sizes. This demonstrates a coordination of tropical tree life histories that can be characterized simultaneously with functional traits and tree allometries.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Tree death due to lightning influences tropical forest carbon cycling and tree community dynamics. However, the distribution of lightning damage among trees in forests remains poorly understood.

    We developed models to predict direct and secondary lightning damage to trees based on tree size, crown exposure and local forest structure. We parameterized these models using data on the locations of lightning strikes and censuses of tree damage in strike zones, combined with drone‐based maps of tree crowns and censuses of all trees within a 50‐ha forest dynamics plot on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.

    The likelihood of a direct strike to a tree increased with larger exposed crown area and higher relative canopy position (emergent > canopy >>> subcanopy), whereas the likelihood of secondary lightning damage increased with tree diameter and proximity to neighbouring trees. The predicted frequency of lightning damage in this mature forest was greater for tree species with larger average diameters.

    These patterns suggest that lightning influences forest structure and the global carbon budget by non‐randomly damaging large trees. Moreover, these models provide a framework for investigating the ecological and evolutionary consequences of lightning disturbance in tropical forests.

    Synthesis. Our findings indicate that the distribution of lightning damage is stochastic at large spatial grain and relatively deterministic at smaller spatial grain (<15 m). Lightning is more likely to directly strike taller trees with large crowns and secondarily damage large neighbouring trees that are closest to the directly struck tree. The results provide a framework for understanding how lightning can affect forest structure, forest dynamics and carbon cycling. The resulting lightning risk model will facilitate informed investigations into the effects of lightning in tropical forests.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Pinus edulis Engelm. is a short-stature, drought-tolerant tree species that is abundant in piñon-juniper woodlands throughout semiarid ecosystems of the American Southwest. P. edulis is a model species among ecophysiological disciplines, with considerable research focus given to hydraulic functioning and carbon partitioning relating to mechanisms of tree mortality. Many ecological studies require robust estimates of tree structural traits such as biomass, active sapwood area, and leaf area. We harvested twenty trees from Central New Mexico ranging in size from 1.3 to 22.7 cm root crown diameter (RCD) to derive allometric relationships from measurements of RCD, maximum height, canopy area (CA), aboveground biomass (AGB), sapwood area (AS), and leaf area (AL). Total foliar mass was measured from a subset of individuals and scaled to AL from estimates of leaf mass per area. We report a strong nonlinear relationship to AGB as a function of both RCD and height, whereas CA scaled linearly. Total AS expressed a power relationship with RCD. Both AS and CA exhibited strong linear relationships with AL (R2 = 0.99), whereas RCD increased nonlinearly with AL. We improve on current models by expanding the size range of sampled trees and supplement the existing literature for this species.

    Study Implications: Land managers need to better understand carbon and water dynamics in changing ecosystems to understand how those ecosystems can be sustainably used now and in the future. This study of two-needle pinon (Pinus edulis Engelm.) trees in New Mexico, USA, uses observations from unoccupied aerial vehicles, field measurements, and harvesting followed by laboratory analysis to develop allometric models for this widespread species. These models can be used to understand plant traits such biomass partitioning and sap flow, which in turn will help scientists and land managers better understand the ecosystem services provided by pinon pine across North America.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Light is a key resource for tree performance and hence, tree species partition spatial and temporal gradients in light availability. Although light distribution drives tree performance and species replacement during secondary forest succession, we yet lack understanding how light distribution changes with tropical forest development.

    This study aims to evaluate how changes in forest structure lead to changes in vertical and horizontal light heterogeneity during tropical forest succession.

    We described successional patterns in light using a chronosequence approach in which we compared 14 Mexican secondary forest stands that differ in age (8–32 years) since agricultural abandonment. For each stand, we measured vertical light profiles in 16 grid cells, and structural parameters (diameter at breast height, height and crown dimensions) for each tree.

    During succession, we found a rapid increase in stand size (basal area, crown area and length) and stand differentiation (i.e. a gradual leaf distribution along the forest profile), which leads to fast changes in light conditions and more light heterogeneity. The inflection points of the vertical light gradient (i.e. the absolute height at which 50% relative light intensity is attained) rapidly moved towards higher heights in the first 20 years, indicating that larger amounts of light are intercepted by canopy trees. Light attenuation rate (i.e. the rate of light extinction) decreased during succession due to slower accumulation of the crown area with height. Understorey light intensity and heterogeneity slightly decreased during succession because of an increase in crown size and a decrease in lateral gap frequency. Understorey relative light intensity was 1.56% at 32 years after abandonment.

    Synthesis. During succession, light conditions changed linearly, which should lead to a continuous and constant replacement of species. Especially in later successional stages, stronger vertical light gradients can limit the regeneration of light‐demanding pioneer species and increase the proportion of shade‐tolerant late‐successional species under the canopy. These changes in light conditions were largely driven by the successional changes in forest structure, as basal area strongly determined the height where most light is absorbed, whereas crown area, and to a lesser extent crown length, determined light distribution.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    In tropical rainforests, tree size and number density are influenced by disturbance history, soil, topography, climate, and biological factors that are difficult to predict without detailed and widespread forest inventory data. Here, we quantify tree size–frequency distributions over an old‐growth wet tropical forest at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica by using an individual tree crown (ITC) algorithm on airborne lidar measurements. The ITC provided tree height, crown area, the number of trees >10 m height and, predicted tree diameter, and aboveground biomass from field allometry. The number density showed strong agreement with field observations at the plot‐ (97.4%; 3% bias) and tree‐height‐classes level (97.4%; 3% bias). The lidar trees size spectra of tree diameter and height closely follow the distributions measured on the ground but showed less agreement with crown area observations. The model to convert lidar‐derived tree height and crown area to tree diameter produced unbiased (0.8%) estimates of plot‐level basal area and with low uncertainty (6%). Predictions on basal area for tree height classes were also unbiased (1.3%) but with larger uncertainties (22%). The biomass estimates had no significant bias at the plot‐ and tree‐height‐classes level (−5.2% and 2.1%). Our ITC method provides a powerful tool for tree‐ to landscape‐level tropical forest inventory and biomass estimation by overcoming the limitations of lidar area‐based approaches that require local calibration using a large number of inventory plots.

    more » « less