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  1. The three‐dimensional (3D) physical aspects of ecosystems are intrinsically linked to ecological processes. Here, we describe structural diversity as the volumetric capacity, physical arrangement, and identity/traits of biotic components in an ecosystem. Despite being recognized in earlier ecological studies, structural diversity has been largely overlooked due to an absence of not only a theoretical foundation but also effective measurement tools. We present a framework for conceptualizing structural diversity and suggest how to facilitate its broader incorporation into ecological theory and practice. We also discuss how the interplay of genetic and environmental factors underpin structural diversity, allowing for a potentially unique synthetic approach to explain ecosystem function. A practical approach is then proposed in which scientists can test the ecological role of structural diversity at biotic–environmental interfaces, along with examples of structural diversity research and future directions for integrating structural diversity into ecological theory and management across scales. 
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  2. Canopy defoliation is an important source of disturbance in forest ecosystems that has rarely been represented in large-scale manipulation experiments. Scalable crown to canopy level experimental defoliation is needed to disentangle the effects of variable intensity, timing, and frequency on forest structure, function, and mortality. We present a novel pressure-washing-based defoliation method that can be implemented at the canopy-scale, throughout the canopy volume, targeted to individual leaves or trees, and completed within a timeframe of hours or days. Pressure washing proved successful at producing consistent leaf-level and whole-canopy defoliation, with 10%–20% reduction in leaf area index and consistent leaf surface area removal across branches and species. This method allows for stand-scale experimentation on defoliation disturbance in forested ecosystems and has the potential for broad application. Studies utilizing this standardized method could promote mechanistic understanding of defoliation effects on ecosystem structure and function and development of synthetic understanding across forest types, ecoregions, and defoliation sources. 
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  3. Abstract

    Moderate severity disturbances, those that do not result in stand replacement, play an essential role in ecosystem dynamics. Despite the prevalence of moderate severity disturbances and the significant impacts they impose on forest functioning, little is known about their effects on forest canopy structure and how these effects differ over time across a range of disturbance severities and disturbance types.

    Using longitudinal data from the National Ecological Observatory Network project, we assessed the effects of three moderate severity press disturbances (beech bark disease, hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer, which are characterized by continuous disturbance and sustained mortality) and three moderate severity pulse disturbances (spring cankerworm moth, spongy moth and ground fire, which are associated with discrete and relatively short mortalities) on temperate forest canopy structure in eastern US. We studied (1) how light detection and ranging (LiDAR)‐derived metrics of canopy structure change in response to disturbance and (2) whether initial canopy complexity offsets impact of disturbances on canopy structure over time. We used a mixed‐effects modelling framework which included a non‐linear term for time to represent changes in canopy structure caused by disturbance, and interactions between time and both disturbance intensity and initial canopy complexity.

    We discovered that high intensity of both press and pulse disturbances inhibited canopy height growth while low intensity pulse disturbances facilitated it. In addition, high intensity pulse disturbances facilitated increases in the complexity of the canopy over time. Concerning the impact of initial canopy complexity, we found that the initial canopy complexity of disturbed plots altered the effects of moderate disturbances, indicating potential resilience effects.

    Synthesis. This study used repeated measurements of LiDAR data to examine the effects of moderate disturbances on various dimensions of forest canopy structure, including height, openness, density and complexity. Our study indicates that both press and pulse disturbances can inhibit canopy height growth over time. However, while the impact of press disturbances on other dimensions of canopy structure could not be clearly detected, likely because of compensatory growth, the impact of pulse disturbances over time was more readily apparent using multi‐temporal LiDAR data. Furthermore, our findings suggest that canopy complexity might help to mitigate the impact of moderate disturbances on canopy structures over time. Overall, our research highlights the usefulness of multi‐temporal LiDAR data for assessing the structural changes in forest canopies caused by moderate severity disturbances.

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  4. Structural diversity is a key feature of forest ecosystems that influences ecosystem functions from local to macroscales. The ability to measure structural diversity in forests with varying ecological composition and management history can improve the understanding of linkages between forest structure and ecosystem functioning. Terrestrial LiDAR has often been used to provide a detailed characterization of structural diversity at local scales, but it is largely unknown whether these same structural features are detectable using aerial LiDAR data that are available across larger spatial scales. We used univariate and multivariate analyses to quantify cross-compatibility of structural diversity metrics from terrestrial versus aerial LiDAR in seven National Ecological Observatory Network sites across the eastern USA. We found strong univariate agreement between terrestrial and aerial LiDAR metrics of canopy height, openness, internal heterogeneity, and leaf area, but found marginal agreement between metrics that described heterogeneity of the outermost layer of the canopy. Terrestrial and aerial LiDAR both demonstrated the ability to distinguish forest sites from structural diversity metrics in multivariate space, but terrestrial LiDAR was able to resolve finer-scale detail within sites. Our findings indicated that aerial LiDAR could be of use in quantifying broad-scale variation in structural diversity across macroscales. 
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  5. Abstract

    Biodiversity is believed to be closely related to ecosystem functions. However, the ability of existing biodiversity measures, such as species richness and phylogenetic diversity, to predict ecosystem functions remains elusive. Here, we propose a new vector of diversity metrics, structural diversity, which directly incorporates niche space in measuring ecosystem structure. We hypothesize that structural diversity will provide better predictive ability of key ecosystem functions than traditional biodiversity measures. Using the new lidar-derived canopy structural diversity metrics on 19 National Ecological Observation Network forested sites across the USA, we show that structural diversity is a better predictor of key ecosystem functions, such as productivity, energy, and nutrient dynamics than existing biodiversity measures (i.e. species richness and phylogenetic diversity). Similar to existing biodiversity measures, we found that the relationships between structural diversity and ecosystem functions are sensitive to environmental context. Our study indicates that structural diversity may be as good or a better predictor of ecosystem functions than species richness and phylogenetic diversity.

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  7. *Differential disturbance severity effects on forest vegetation structure, species diversity, and net primary production (NPP) have been long theorized and observed. Here, we examined these factors concurrently to explore the potential for a mechanistic pathway linking disturbance severity, changes in light environment, leaf functional response, and wood NPP in a temperate hardwood forest. *Using a suite of measurements spanning an experimental gradient of tree mortality, we evaluated the direction and magnitude of change in vegetation structural and diversity indexes in relation to wood NPP. Informed by prior observations, we hypothesized that forest structural and species diversity changes and wood NPP would exhibit either a linear, unimodal, or threshold response in relation to disturbance severity. We expected increasing disturbance severity would progressively shift subcanopy light availability and leaf traits, thereby coupling structural and species diversity changes with primary production. *Linear or unimodal changes in three of four vegetation structural indexes were observed across the gradient in disturbance severity. However, disturbance-related changes in vegetation structure were not consistently correlated with shifts in light environment, leaf traits, and wood NPP. Species diversity indexes did not change in response to rising disturbance severity. *We conclude that, in our study system, the sensitivity of wood NPP to rising disturbance severity is generally tied to changing vegetation structure but not species diversity. Changes in vegetation structure are inconsistently coupled with light environment and leaf traits, resulting in mixed support for our hypothesized cascade linking disturbance severity to wood NPP. 
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