Climate and Edaphic Controls on Humid Tropical Forest Tree Height

Friday, 19 December 2014
Yan Yang, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States, Sassan S Saatchi, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States and Liang Xu, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Uncertainty in the magnitude and spatial variations of forest carbon density in tropical regions is due to under sampling of forest structure from inventory plots and the lack of regional allometry to estimate the carbon density from structure. Here we quantify the variation of tropical forest structure by using more than 2.5 million measurements of canopy height from systematic sampling of Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) satellite observations between 2004 to 2008 and examine the climate and edaphic variables influencing the variations. We used top canopy height of GLAS footprints (~ 0.25 ha) to grid the statistical mean and 90 percentile of samples at 0.5 degrees to capture the regional variability of large trees in tropics. GLAS heights were also aggregated based on a stratification of tropical regions using soil, elevation, and forest types. Both approaches provided consistent patterns of statistically dominant large trees and the least heterogeneity, both as strong drivers of distribution of high biomass forests. Statistical models accounting for spatial autocorrelation suggest that climate, soil and spatial features together can explain more than 60% of the variations in observed tree height information, while climate-only variables explains about one third of the first-order changes in tree height. Soil basics, including physical compositions such as clay and sand contents, chemical properties such as PH values and cation-exchange capacity, as well as biological variables such as organic matters, all present independent but statistically significant relationships to tree height variations. The results confirm other landscape and regional studies that soil fertility, geology and climate may jointly control a majority of the regional variations of forest structure in pan-tropics and influencing both biomass stocks and dynamics. Consequently, other factors such as biotic and disturbance regimes, not included in this study, may have less influence on regional variations but strongly mediate landscape and small-scale forest structure and dynamics.