Tree Growth Enhancement Drives a Persistent Biomass Gain in Unmanaged Temperate Forests


Abstract While enhanced tree growth over the last decades has been reported in forests across the globe, it remains unclear whether it drives persistent biomass increases of forest stands, particularly in mature forests. Enhanced tree growth and stand-level biomass are often linked with a simultaneous increase in density-driven mortality and a reduction in tree longevity. Identifying empirical evidence regarding the balance between these processes is challenging due to the confounding effects of stand history, management, and environmental changes. Here, we investigate the link between growth and biomass via the negative relationship between average tree size and stand density (tree number per area). We find increasing stand density for a given mean tree size in unmanaged closed-canopy forests in Switzerland over the past six decades and a positive relationship between tree growth and stand density across forest plots—qualitatively consistent with our simulations using a mechanistic, cohort-resolving ecosystem model (BiomeE). Model simulations show that, in the absence of other disturbances, enhanced tree growth persistently increases biomass stocks despite simultaneous decreases in carbon residence time and tree longevity. However, the magnitude of simulated biomass changes for a given growth enhancement critically depends on the shape of the mortality functions. Our analyses reconcile reports of growth-induced reductions of tree longevity with model predictions of persistent biomass increases, and with our finding of trends toward denser forests in response to growth—also in mature stands.

AGU Advances
Laura Marqués
Laura Marqués
Postdoctoral Researcher