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Leaf-traits and growth allometry explain competition and differences in response to climatic change in a temperate forest landscape: a simulation study


Background and Aims: The ability to simulate plant competition accurately is essential for plant functional type (PFT)-based models used in climate-change studies, yet gaps and uncertainties remain in our understanding of the details of the competition mechanisms and in ecosystem responses at a landscape level. This study examines secondary succession in a temperate deciduous forest in eastern China with the aim of determining if competition between tree types can be explained by differences in leaf ecophysiological traits and growth allometry, and whether ecophysiological traits and habitat spatial configurations among PFTs differentiate their responses to climate change.

Methods: A temperate deciduous broadleaved forest in eastern China was studied, containing two major vegetation types dominated by Quercus liaotungensis (OAK) and by birch/poplar (Betula platyphylla and Populus davidiana; BIP), respectively. The Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator (TESim) suite of models was used to examine carbon and water dynamics using parameters measured at the site, and the model was evaluated against long-term data collected at the site.

Key Results: Simulations indicated that a higher assimilation rate for the BIP vegetation than OAK led to the former’s dominance during early successional stages with relatively low competition. In middle/late succession with intensive competition for below-ground resources, BIP, with its lower drought tolerance/resistance and smaller allocation to leaves/roots, gave way to OAK. At landscape scale, predictions with increased temperature extrapolated from existing weather records resulted in increased average net primary productivity (NPP; 19 %), heterotrophic respiration (23 %) and net ecosystem carbon balance (+17 %). The BIP vegetation in higher and cooler habitats showed 14 % greater sensitivity to increased temperature than the OAK at lower and warmer locations.

Conclusions: Drought tolerance/resistance and morphology-related allocation strategy (i.e. more allocation to leaves/roots) played key roles in the competition between the vegetation types. The overall site-average impacts of increased temperature on NPP and carbon stored in plants were found to be positive,