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      Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size

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          Abstract

          Forests are major components of the global carbon cycle, providing substantial feedback to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Our ability to understand and predict changes in the forest carbon cycle--particularly net primary productivity and carbon storage--increasingly relies on models that represent biological processes across several scales of biological organization, from tree leaves to forest stands. Yet, despite advances in our understanding of productivity at the scales of leaves and stands, no consensus exists about the nature of productivity at the scale of the individual tree, in part because we lack a broad empirical assessment of whether rates of absolute tree mass growth (and thus carbon accumulation) decrease, remain constant, or increase as trees increase in size and age. Here we present a global analysis of 403 tropical and temperate tree species, showing that for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree. The apparent paradoxes of individual tree growth increasing with tree size despite declining leaf-level and stand-level productivity can be explained, respectively, by increases in a tree's total leaf area that outpace declines in productivity per unit of leaf area and, among other factors, age-related reductions in population density. Our results resolve conflicting assumptions about the nature of tree growth, inform efforts to undertand and model forest carbon dynamics, and have additional implications for theories of resource allocation and plant senescence.

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          Most cited references38

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          Age-Related Decline in Forest Productivity: Pattern and Process

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            Use of Logarithmic Regression in the Estimation of Plant Biomass

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              Global allocation rules for patterns of biomass partitioning in seed plants.

              A general allometric model has been derived to predict intraspecific and interspecific scaling relationships among seed plant leaf, stem, and root biomass. Analysis of a large compendium of standing organ biomass sampled across a broad sampling of taxa inhabiting diverse ecological habitats supports the relations predicted by the model and defines the boundary conditions for above- and below-ground biomass partitioning. These canonical biomass relations are insensitive to phyletic affiliation (conifers versus angiosperms) and variation in averaged local environmental conditions. The model thus identifies and defines the limits that have guided the diversification of seed plant biomass allocation strategies.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                March 2014
                January 15 2014
                March 2014
                : 507
                : 7490
                : 90-93
                Article
                10.1038/nature12914
                24429523
                0695bd6e-88d7-4876-a11d-25cba0be096c
                © 2014

                http://www.springer.com/tdm


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