Optimal climate for large trees at high elevations drives patterns of biomass in remote forests of Papua New Guinea

Venter, Michelle, Dwyer, John, Dieleman, Wouter, Ramachandra, Anurag, Gillieson, David, Laurance, Susan, Cernusak, Lucas A., Beehler, Bruce, Jensen, Rigel, and Bird, Michael I. (2017) Optimal climate for large trees at high elevations drives patterns of biomass in remote forests of Papua New Guinea. Global Change Biology, 23 (11). pp. 4873-4883.

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Our ability to model global carbon fluxes depends on understanding how terrestrial carbon stocks respond to varying environmental conditions. Tropical forests contain the bulk of the biosphere's carbon. However, there is a lack of consensus as to how gradients in environmental conditions affect tropical forest carbon. Papua New Guinea (PNG) lies within one of the largest areas of contiguous tropical forest and is characterized by environmental gradients driven by altitude; yet, the region has been grossly understudied. Here, we present the first field assessment of aboveground biomass (AGB) across three main forest types of PNG using 193 plots stratified across 3,100-m elevation gradient. Unexpectedly, AGB had no direct relationship to rainfall, temperature, soil, or topography. Instead, natural disturbances explained most variation in AGB. While large trees (diameter at breast height > 50 cm) drove altitudinal patterns of AGB, resulting in a major peak in AGB (2,200–3,100 m) and some of the most carbon-rich forests at these altitudes anywhere. Large trees were correlated to a set of climatic variables following a humpshaped curve. The set of "optimal" climatic conditions found in montane cloud forests is similar to that of maritime temperate areas that harbor the largest trees in the world: high ratio of precipitation to evapotranspiration (2.8), moderate mean annual temperature (13.7°C), and low intra-annual temperature range (7.5°C). At extreme altitudes (2,800–3,100 m), where tree diversity elsewhere is usually low and large trees are generally rare or absent, specimens from 18 families had girths >70 cm diameter and maximum heights 20–41 m. These findings indicate that simple AGB-climate-edaphic models may not be suitable for estimating carbon storage in forests where optimal climate niches exist. Our study, conducted in a very remote area, suggests that tropical montane forests may contain greater AGB than previously thought and the importance of securing their future under a changing climate is therefore enhanced.

Item ID: 49715
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2486
Keywords: carbon, elevation transect, forest biomass, large trees, natural disturbance, optimal climate condition, steep slopes, tropical montane forest
Funders: German Development Bank (KfW)
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2017 00:29
FoR Codes: 30 AGRICULTURAL, VETERINARY AND FOOD SCIENCES > 3007 Forestry sciences > 300703 Forest ecosystems @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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