U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Patterns of Tree Mortality in a Temperate Deciduous Forest Derived From a Large Forest Dynamics Plot
Published: December 08, 2016
Posted: June 15, 2017

Development of a method for characterizing modes of tree mortality to advance understanding and modeling of forest dynamics and the carbon cycle.

The Science
Forest mortality has overriding control on the forest carbon cycle. However, the drivers of mortality in forests are not well understood, and are consequently not well represented in earth system models. In this study, we develop a method for assessing how trees die and how mortality rates differ among species, size classes, and functional groups. The new method will capture rare mortality events and detect mortality events that may be linked to environmental change.

The Impact
We use four censuses of a 25.6 ha ForestGEO forest dynamics plot to assess mortality patterns. With such a large sample size it is possible to characterize mortality rates by size, species, plant functional type, and microhabitat allowing for detailed understanding of the drivers of mortality. The method developed in this paper forms the basis of a protocol now being applied at 10 large-scale tropical ForestGEO plots under the NGEE-Tropics initiative.

Since understanding fine-scale mortality processes is essential for modeling forest responses to changing climatic and environmental conditions, this work makes important progress in providing empirical observations that will inform future modeling activities in the NGEE-Tropics project. Furthermore, widespread application of annual tree mortality surveys on large forest dynamics plots will provide greater insights into the annual variability of forest structural and compositional changes that result from tree death associated with anthropogenic, ecological, or climatic disturbances.


Daniel Stover
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289)

(PI Contact)
Stuart Davies
ForestGEO-CTFS, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Funds for the full tree censuses were provided by the Smithsonian Institution Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO). Annual mortality censuses and the analyses presented here were funded by a Smithsonian Competitive Grants Program in Science award to KAT. CYE received support from the Mary Jean Hale Fund. SJD received support from the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE) Tropics project.

Gonzalez-Akre, E. B., Meakem, V., Eng, C.Y., Tepley, A. J., Bourg, N. A., McShea, W. J., Davies, S. J. and Anderson-Teixeira, K. J. (2016). Patterns of tree mortality in a temperate deciduous forest derived from a large forest dynamics plot. Ecosphere 7(12): e01595. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1595

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)