, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 1156–1167 | Cite as

Dependence of Forest Structure and Dynamics on Substrate Age and Ecosystem Development

  • James R. KellnerEmail author
  • Gregory P. Asner
  • Peter M. Vitousek
  • Michael A. Tweiten
  • Sara Hotchkiss
  • Oliver A. Chadwick


We quantified rates, sizes, and spatial properties of prevailing disturbance regimes in five tropical rain forest landscapes on a substrate-age gradient in Hawaii. By integrating measurements from airborne LiDAR with field studies and statistical modeling, we show that the structure and dynamics of these forests respond to processes that change during the development of ecosystems. On young substrates of 0.3 ky where forests are in primary succession and are limited by N, mean canopy height was 13 m and height decreases more than 1 m occurred in small, isolated events (power-law exponent = 1.69 ± 0.02, n = 61 gaps ha−1). The proportion of the landscape affected by disturbance increased on high-fertility intermediate-aged substrates of 5–65 ky and canopies were heterogeneous. Frequencies of height decreases more than 1 m were n = 14, 18, and 30 gaps ha−1 corresponding to power-law exponents of 2.188 ± 0.02, 2.220 ± 0.03, and 1.982 ± 0.02 on substrates of 5, 20, and 65 ky. There was a substantial difference between forests on a 150 ky substrate and sites of 5–65 ky; trees on the older substrate formed patchworks of stunted cloud-forest and stands of taller-stature trees. The frequency of recent disturbance events more than 1 m was n = 48 gaps ha−1, corresponding to a power-law exponent of 1.638 ± 0.01. Across the substrate-age gradient, the proportion of each landscape that decreased in height by more than 1 m was 0.16, 0.40, 0.41, 0.36, and 0.17, respectively. These findings demonstrate that substrate age and processes associated with ecosystem development can mediate the rates, sizes, and spatial characteristics of disturbance regimes on forested landscapes, and point toward the necessity of large-area samples to obtain robust estimates of natural dynamics.


Carbon Canopy gap Disturbance Forest dynamics Hawaii LiDAR Rain forest 



This study was funded by NSF grant DEB-0715593, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Carnegie Institution. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory is made possible by the W.M. Keck Foundation and William Hearst III.

Supplementary material

10021_2011_9472_MOESM1_ESM.doc (208 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 208 kb)
10021_2011_9472_MOESM2_ESM.doc (13 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 13 kb)
10021_2011_9472_MOESM3_ESM.tif (9.2 mb)
Figure S1. Distinguishing recent disturbance events using simulated LiDAR imagery. A and B are digital canopy models from two points in time. Panel C is a model of canopy-height change obtained by subtracting panel B from panel A. For a given magnitude height class, h, contiguous pixels with vegetation height decrease ≥ h m are recent disturbance events, shown here for h = 1, 5, 10 and 15 m. Note how events of small magnitude are large in area and contain events of larger magnitude height change. Small offsets in boundaries are for clarity. (TIFF 9408 kb)
10021_2011_9472_MOESM4_ESM.tif (11.5 mb)
Figure S2. Example spherical semivariograms, showing the effects of varying the asymptotic semivariance (A), the range (B), the nugget (C), or all three parameters (D). (TIFF 11726 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • James R. Kellner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gregory P. Asner
    • 1
  • Peter M. Vitousek
    • 3
  • Michael A. Tweiten
    • 4
  • Sara Hotchkiss
    • 4
  • Oliver A. Chadwick
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Global EcologyCarnegie InstitutionStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Department of BotanyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbraUSA

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