Canopy Structural Changes Following Widespread Mortality of Canopy Dominant Trees

TitleCanopy Structural Changes Following Widespread Mortality of Canopy Dominant Trees
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsHardiman B, Bohrer G, Gough C, Curtis P
Pagination537 - 552
Date Published9/2013
Type of ArticlePI

Canopy structure affects forest function by determining light availability and distribution. Many forests throughout the upper Great Lakes region are dominated by mature, even-aged, early successional aspen and birch, which comprise 35%–40% of canopy leaf area, and which are senescing at accelerating rates. In 2008 at the University of Michigan Biological Station, we initiated the Forest Accelerated Succession ExperimenT (FASET) by stem girdling all aspen and birch in replicated stands to induce mortality. Our objective was to understand type and rate of canopy structural changes imposed by rapid but diffuse disturbance consisting of mortality of a single age-species cohort. We characterized changes in canopy structural features in 2008–2011 using ground-based Portable Canopy Lidar (PCL) in paired treated and control stands. As aspen and birch in treated plots died, gap fraction of the upper canopy increased, average leaf height decreased, total canopy height declined, and openness of the whole-canopy increased. All of these trends became more pronounced with time. Our findings suggest that as forests throughout the region pass through the impending successional transition prompted by widespread mortality of canopy-dominant early successional aspen and birch species, the canopy will undergo significant structural reorganization with consequences for forest carbon assimilation.