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The Next Generation of Forest Analysis: Integrating Tree Functional Traits With the “Big Data” of Forest Inventories

Photo of Shannon’s Diversity Index of a forest’s wood specific gravity (i.e., wood density), which serves as an indicator of various forest ecosystem processes such as selfthinning. USDA Forest ServiceShannon’s Diversity Index of a forest’s wood specific gravity (i.e., wood density), which serves as an indicator of various forest ecosystem processes such as selfthinning. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Over recent years, plant traits such as shade tolerance or wood density have emerged as valuable variables in interpreting plant population dynamics. As forest dynamics such as growth and mortality are central to forest conservation across the United States, integrating tree traits into forest inventory analyses has the potential to greatly refine the monitoring and management of U.S. forests by the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program at the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Woodall, Christopher W.  
Research Location : All eastern U.S. states
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 871

Summary

Databases of plant functional traits such as wood density or drought tolerance were combined with the database of the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program to evaluate the use of these traits in the assessment of forest processes such as growth and mortality. Forst Service scientists found that tree traits were valuable predictors of forest ecosystem functions. The trait of wood density (as indicated by specific gravity) provided a framework for quantifying the accretion of biomass across eastern U.S. forests, which in turn suggests tradeoffs when managing forests for the maximization of woody biomass. They also found that variation in traits in forest stands, beyond just the mean, can be an indicator of forest dynamics. A measure of the inequality of drought tolerance across a stand’s tree species was found to be related to volume accretion. Given the accumulating interest in evaluating trajectories of forest production in the face of episodic and/or extreme weather events (such as drought, flood, or wind events), refining the role of tree functional traits in forest inventory analyses should continue to provide dividends into the future.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Anthony D’Amato, University of Vermont
  • Kai Zhu, Stanford University
  • Matthew Russell, University of Minnesota
  • Sassan Saatchi, Jet Propulsion Laboratory