Spatial and Temporal Variability of Canopy Structure in a Tropical Moist Forest

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Acta Oecologica







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Tree fall gaps are widely considered to play a prominent role in the maintenance of species diversity, while the spatiotemporal variability of canopy structure within closed forest stands is largely ignored. In this study we examined the vertical and horizontal components of canopy structure and its seasonal variability in a tropical wet semideciduous rainforest in Panama. Leaf area indices (LAI) were derived from measurements of diffuse radiation and empirically-based leaf angle distribution by mathematical inversion of a light interception model. Vertical distribution of LAI was non-homogeneous with 50% of the leaf area being concentrated in the uppermost 5 m of the canopy. In the wet season, when foliage is most abundant, the horizontal distribution of LAI in a 2100 m2 plot ranged widely from 3 to 8, with a mean of 5.41. Changes in mean LAI between wet and dry seasons were small but highly significant. While ca 40% of the area was not affected by local changes in LAI, sizeable small scale changes in LAI did occur between wet and dry season in some locations. Local changes in LAI ranged from –2.3 to 2.4. These changes resulted in a 50% or more increase in light reaching the forest floor at 29% of the measuring locations, and a doubling or more at 13% of the location. Our results imply that structural heterogeneity by simple tree fall gaps do not adequately describe the dynamics of forest canopies.


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