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Size–growth asymmetry is not consistently related to productivity across an eastern US temperate forest network

Abstract

Modeling and forecasting forests as carbon sinks require that we understand the primary factors affecting productivity. One factor thought to be positively related to stand productivity is the degree of asymmetry, or the slope of the relationship between tree size and biomass growth. Steeper slopes indicate disproportionate productivity of big trees relative to small trees. Theoretically, big trees outcompete smaller trees during favorable growth conditions because they maintain better access to light. For this reason, high productivity forests are expected to have asymmetric growth. However, empirical studies do not consistently support this expectation, and those that do are limited in spatial or temporal scope. Here, we analyze size–growth relationships from 1970 to 2011 across a diverse network of forest sites in the eastern United States (n = 16) to test whether asymmetry is consistently related to productivity. To investigate this relationship, we analyze asymmetry-productivity relationships between our 16 forests at non-overlapping annual, 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-year sampling intervals and find that asymmetry is negatively related to productivity, but the strength depends on the specific interval considered. Within-site temporal variability in asymmetry and productivity are generally positively correlated over time, except at the 5-year remeasurement interval. Rather than confirming or failing to support a positive relationship between asymmetry and productivity, our findings suggest caution interpreting these metrics since the relationship varies across forest types and temporal scales.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this work was generously contributed by: National Science Foundation MacroSystems Biology Grant #1241930; the Department of Energy Global Climate Modeling program SC0016011; and the Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation.

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Authors

Contributions

AD conceived the idea, performed analyses, and wrote the manuscript; AD, MRA, DB, and NP contributed new datasets; DD, NP, and AH helped frame the analysis and contributed intellectual expertise; All Authors provided editorial advice and data interpretation.

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Correspondence to Alex Dye.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Christiane Roscher.

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Dye, A., Ross Alexander, M., Bishop, D. et al. Size–growth asymmetry is not consistently related to productivity across an eastern US temperate forest network. Oecologia 189, 515–528 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-018-4318-9

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Keywords

  • Temperate forests
  • Dendroecology
  • Basal area growth
  • Productivity
  • Asymmetry