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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 references 45

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          Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines

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            A large and persistent carbon sink in the world's forests.

            The terrestrial carbon sink has been large in recent decades, but its size and location remain uncertain. Using forest inventory data and long-term ecosystem carbon studies, we estimate a total forest sink of 2.4 ± 0.4 petagrams of carbon per year (Pg C year(-1)) globally for 1990 to 2007. We also estimate a source of 1.3 ± 0.7 Pg C year(-1) from tropical land-use change, consisting of a gross tropical deforestation emission of 2.9 ± 0.5 Pg C year(-1) partially compensated by a carbon sink in tropical forest regrowth of 1.6 ± 0.5 Pg C year(-1). Together, the fluxes comprise a net global forest sink of 1.1 ± 0.8 Pg C year(-1), with tropical estimates having the largest uncertainties. Our total forest sink estimate is equivalent in magnitude to the terrestrial sink deduced from fossil fuel emissions and land-use change sources minus ocean and atmospheric sinks.
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              Tree allometry and improved estimation of carbon stocks and balance in tropical forests.

              Tropical forests hold large stores of carbon, yet uncertainty remains regarding their quantitative contribution to the global carbon cycle. One approach to quantifying carbon biomass stores consists in inferring changes from long-term forest inventory plots. Regression models are used to convert inventory data into an estimate of aboveground biomass (AGB). We provide a critical reassessment of the quality and the robustness of these models across tropical forest types, using a large dataset of 2,410 trees >or= 5 cm diameter, directly harvested in 27 study sites across the tropics. Proportional relationships between aboveground biomass and the product of wood density, trunk cross-sectional area, and total height are constructed. We also develop a regression model involving wood density and stem diameter only. Our models were tested for secondary and old-growth forests, for dry, moist and wet forests, for lowland and montane forests, and for mangrove forests. The most important predictors of AGB of a tree were, in decreasing order of importance, its trunk diameter, wood specific gravity, total height, and forest type (dry, moist, or wet). Overestimates prevailed, giving a bias of 0.5-6.5% when errors were averaged across all stands. Our regression models can be used reliably to predict aboveground tree biomass across a broad range of tropical forests. Because they are based on an unprecedented dataset, these models should improve the quality of tropical biomass estimates, and bring consensus about the contribution of the tropical forest biome and tropical deforestation to the global carbon cycle.
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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
                © 2014

                http://www.springer.com/tdm

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