Spatial scale and sampling resolution affect measures of gap disturbance in a lowland tropical forest: Implications for understanding forest regeneration and carbon storage

Elena Lobo, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Treefall gaps play an important role in tropical forest dynamics and in determining above-ground biomass (AGB). However, our understanding of gap disturbance regimes is largely based either on surveys of forest plots that are small relative to spatial variation in gap disturbance, or on satellite imagery, which cannot accurately detect small gaps. We used high-resolution light detection and ranging data from a 1500 ha forest in Panama to: (i) determine how gap disturbance parameters are influenced by study area size, and the criteria used to define gaps; and (ii) to evaluate how accurately previous ground-based canopy height sampling can determine the size and location of gaps. We found that plot-scale disturbance parameters frequently differed significantly from those measured at the landscape-level, and that canopy height thresholds used to define gaps strongly influenced the gap-size distribution, an important metric influencing AGB. Furthermore, simulated ground surveys of canopy height frequently misrepresented the true location of gaps, which may affect conclusions about how relatively small canopy gaps affect successional processes and contribute to the maintenance of diversity. Across site comparisons need to consider how gap definition, scale and spatial resolution affect characterizations of gap disturbance, and its inferred importance for carbon storage and community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20133218
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume281
Issue number1778
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 22 2014

Keywords

  • Barro Colorado Island
  • Forest succession
  • Gap dynamics
  • Light detecting and ranging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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