Fragmentation transforms the environment along forest edges. The prevailing narrative, driven by research in tropical systems, suggests that edge environments increase tree mortality and structural degradation resulting in net decreases in ecosystem productivity. We show that, in contrast to tropical systems, temperate forest edges exhibit increased forest growth and biomass with no change in total mortality relative to the forest interior. We analyze >48,000 forest inventory plots across the north-eastern US using a quasi-experimental matching design. At forest edges adjacent to anthropogenic land covers, we report increases of 36.3% and 24.1% in forest growth and biomass, respectively. Inclusion of edge impacts increases estimates of forest productivity by up to 23% in agriculture-dominated areas, 15% in the metropolitan coast, and +2% in the least-fragmented regions. We also quantify forest fragmentation globally, at 30-m resolution, showing that temperate forests contain 52% more edge forest area than tropical forests. Our analyses upend the conventional wisdom of forest edges as less productive than intact forest and call for a reassessment of the conservation value of forest fragments.more » « less
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- Nature Publishing Group
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- Journal Name:
- Nature Communications
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Abstract Forest fragmentation is ubiquitous across urban and rural areas. While there is mounting evidence that forest fragmentation alters the terrestrial carbon cycle, the extent to which differences in ambient growing conditions between urban and rural landscapes mediate forest response to fragmentation and climate remains unexamined. This study integrates field measurements of forest structure, growth, and soil respiration with climate data and high-resolution land-cover maps to quantify forest carbon storage and sequestration patterns along edge-to-interior gradients. These data were used to contrast the response of temperate broadleaf forests to non-forest edges within rural and urban landscapes. We find that forest growth rates in both rural and urban landscapes nearly double from the forest interior to edge. Additionally, these edge-induced enhancements in forest growth are not offset by concurrent increases in total soil respiration observed across our sites. Forest productivity generally increases near edges because of increases in leaf area, but elevated air temperature at the edge tempers this response and imparts greater sensitivity of forest growth to heat. In particular, the adverse impacts of heat on forest growth are two to three times larger in urban than rural landscapes. We demonstrate that the highly fragmented nature of urban forests compared to rural forests makes them a stronger carbon sink per unit area, but also much more vulnerable to a warming climate. Collectively, our results highlight the need to include the effects of both urbanization and fragmentation when quantifying regional carbon balance and its response to a changing climate.more » « less
Drought, fire, and windstorms can interact to degrade tropical forests and the ecosystem services they provide, but how these forests recover after catastrophic disturbance events remains relatively unknown. Here, we analyze multi‐year measurements of vegetation dynamics and function (fluxes of CO2and H2O) in forests recovering from 7 years of controlled burns, followed by wind disturbance. Located in southeast Amazonia, the experimental forest consists of three 50‐ha plots burned annually, triennially, or not at all from 2004 to 2010. During the subsequent 6‐year recovery period, postfire tree survivorship and biomass sharply declined, with aboveground C stocks decreasing by 70%–94% along forest edges (0–200 m into the forest) and 36%–40% in the forest interior. Vegetation regrowth in the forest understory triggered partial canopy closure (70%–80%) from 2010 to 2015. The composition and spatial distribution of grasses invading degraded forest evolved rapidly, likely because of the delayed mortality. Four years after the experimental fires ended (2014), the burned plots assimilated 36% less carbon than the Control, but net CO2exchange and evapotranspiration (ET) had fully recovered 7 years after the experimental fires ended (2017). Carbon uptake recovery occurred largely in response to increased light‐use efficiency and reduced postfire respiration, whereas increased water use associated with postfire growth of new recruits and remaining trees explained the recovery in ET. Although the effects of interacting disturbances (e.g., fires, forest fragmentation, and blowdown events) on mortality and biomass persist over many years, the rapid recovery of carbon and water fluxes can help stabilize local climate.
Tropical forest function is of global significance to climate change responses, and critically determined by water availability patterns. Groundwater is tightly related to soil water through the water table depth (WT), but historically neglected in ecological studies. Shallow WT forests (WT < 5 m) are underrepresented in forest research networks and absent in eddy flux measurements, although they represent
c. 50% of the Amazon and are expected to respond differently to global‐change‐related droughts. We review WT patterns and consequences for plants, emerging results, and advance a conceptual model integrating environment and trait distributions to predict climate change effects. Shallow WT forests have a distinct species composition, with more resource‐acquisitive and hydrologically vulnerable trees, shorter canopies and lower biomass than deep WT forests. During ‘normal’ climatic years, shallow WT forests have higher mortality and lower productivity than deep WT forests, but during moderate droughts mortality is buffered and productivity increases. However, during severe drought, shallow WT forests may be more sensitive due to shallow roots and drought‐intolerant traits. Our evidence supports the hypothesis of neglected shallow WT forests being resilient to moderate drought, challenging the prevailing view of widespread negative effects of climate change on Amazonian forests that ignores WT gradients, but predicts they could collapse under very strong droughts.
Insects and pathogens are widely recognized as contributing to increased tree vulnerability to the projected future increasing frequency of hot and dry conditions, but the role of parasitic plants is poorly understood even though they are common throughout temperate coniferous forests in the western United States. We investigated the influence of western hemlock dwarf mistletoe (
Arceuthobium tsugense) on large (≥45.7 cm diameter) western hemlock ( Tsuga heterophylla) growth and mortality in a 500 year old coniferous forest at the Wind River Experimental Forest, Washington State, United States. We used five repeated measurements from a long‐term tree record for 1,395 T. heterophyllaindividuals. Data were collected across a time gradient (1991–2014) capturing temperature increases and precipitation decreases. The dwarf mistletoe rating (DMR), a measure of infection intensity, varied among individuals. Our results indicated that warmer and drier conditions amplified dwarf mistletoe effects on T. heterophyllatree growth and mortality. We found that heavy infection (i.e., high DMR) resulted in reduced growth during all four measurement intervals, but during warm and dry intervals (a) growth declined across the entire population regardless of DMR level, and (b) both moderate and heavy infections resulted in greater growth declines compared to light infection levels. Mortality rates increased from cooler‐wetter to warmer‐drier measurement intervals, in part reflecting increasing mortality with decreasing tree growth. Mortality rates were positively related to DMR, but only during the warm and dry measurement intervals. These results imply that parasitic plants like dwarf mistletoe can amplify the impact of climatic stressors of trees, contributing to the vulnerability of forest landscapes to climate‐induced productivity losses and mortality events.
Tropical elevation gradients are natural laboratories to assess how changing climate can influence tropical forests. However, there is a need for theory and integrated data collection to scale from traits to ecosystems. We assess predictions of a novel trait‐based scaling theory, including whether observed shifts in forest traits across a broad tropical temperature gradient are consistent with local phenotypic optima and adaptive compensation for temperature.
An elevation gradient spanning 3,300 m and consisting of thousands of tropical tree trait measures taken from 16 1‐ha tropical forest plots in southern Perú, where gross and net primary productivity (GPP and NPP) were measured.
April to November 2013.
Major taxa studied
Plants; tropical trees.
We developed theory to scale from traits to communities and ecosystems and tested several predictions. We assessed the covariation between climate, traits, biomass and GPP and NPP. We measured multiple traits linked to variation in tree growth and assessed their frequency distributions within and across the elevation gradient. We paired these trait measures across individuals within 16 forests with simultaneous measures of ecosystem net and gross primary productivity.
Consistent with theory, variation in forest NPP and GPP primarily scaled with forest biomass, but the secondary effect of temperature on productivity was much less than expected. This weak temperature dependence appears to reflect directional shifts in several mean community traits that underlie tree growth with decreases in site temperature.
The observed shift in traits of trees that dominate in more cold environments is consistent with an ‘adaptive/acclimatory’ compensation for the kinetic effects of temperature on leaf photosynthesis and tree growth. Forest trait distributions across the gradient showed overly peaked and skewed distributions, consistent with the importance of local filtering of optimal growth traits and recent shifts in species composition and dominance attributable to warming from climate change. Trait‐based scaling theory provides a basis to predict how shifts in climate have and will influence the trait composition and ecosystem functioning of tropical forests.