, Volume 163, Issue 3, pp 759–773 | Cite as

Individual variability in tree allometry determines light resource allocation in forest ecosystems: a hierarchical Bayesian approach

  • Ghislain Vieilledent
  • Benoît Courbaud
  • Georges Kunstler
  • Jean-François Dhôte
  • James S. Clark
Community ecology - Original Paper


Tree species differences in crown size and shape are often highlighted as key characteristics determining light interception strategies and successional dynamics. The phenotypic plasticity of species in response to light and space availability suggests that intraspecific variability can have potential consequences on light interception and community dynamics. Species crown size varies depending on site characteristics and other factors at the individual level which differ from competition for light and space. These factors, such as individual genetic characteristics, past disturbances or environmental micro-site effects, combine with competition-related phenotypic plasticity to determine the individual variability in crown size. Site and individual variability are typically ignored when considering crown size and light interception by trees, and residual variability is relegated to a residual error term, which is then ignored when studying ecological processes. In the present study, we structured and quantified variability at the species, site, and individual levels for three frequently used tree allometric relations using fixed and random effects in a hierarchical Bayesian framework. We focused on two species: Abies alba (silver fir) and Picea abies (Norway spruce) in nine forest stands of the western Alps. We demonstrated that species had different allometric relations from site to site and that individual variability accounted for a large part of the variation in allometric relations. Using a spatially explicit radiation transmission model on real stands, we showed that individual variability in tree allometry had a substantial impact on light resource allocation in the forest. Individual variability in tree allometry modulates species’ light-intercepting ability. It generates heterogeneous light conditions under the canopy, with high light micro-habitats that may promote the regeneration of light-demanding species and slow down successional dynamics.


Tree allometry Hierarchical Bayes Individual variability Resource allocation Succession 



Grateful thanks are extended to Eric Mermin, Pascal Tardif, Marc Fuhr and Eric Maldonado (Cemagref, Grenoble) for field work and programming advice, Renzo Motta (University of Turin) for the Italian plot data, Jean-Louis Gay (Canton de Vaud) for the Swiss plot data, Ulrich Ulmer (Swiss WSL) for references on measurement error data, Sylvie-Gourlet Fleury (CIRAD, Montpellier), Frédéric Gosselin (Cemagref, Nogent-sur-Vernisson), Jacques Lepart (CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier) and Erick Parent (ENGREF, Paris) for comments on previous manuscripts. This work was supported by the Grenoble Cemagref, the French National Forest Office and the French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The research activities complied with relevant laws and regulations of France, Italy and Switzerland.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material (PDF 1025 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ghislain Vieilledent
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Benoît Courbaud
    • 1
    • 6
  • Georges Kunstler
    • 1
  • Jean-François Dhôte
    • 4
    • 5
  • James S. Clark
    • 6
  1. 1.Mountain Ecosystems Research UnitCemagrefSaint-Martin-d’Hères CedexFrance
  2. 2.UMR1092, Laboratoire d’Etude des Ressources Forêt BoisAgroParisTechNancyFrance
  3. 3.UR105 Forest Ecosystem Goods and ServicesCiradMontpellier Cedex 5France
  4. 4.UMR1092, Laboratoire d’Etude des Ressources Forêt BoisINRANancyFrance
  5. 5.Département RechercheONFFontainebleauFrance
  6. 6.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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