Erosion rates as a potential bottom-up control of forest structural characteristics in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

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Abstract

The physical characteristics of landscapes place fundamental constraints on vegetation growth and ecosystem function. In actively eroding landscapes, many of these characteristics are controlled by long-term erosion rates: increased erosion rates generate steeper topography and reduce the depth and extent of weathering, limiting moisture storage capacity and impacting nutrient availability. Despite the potentially important bottom-up control that erosion rates place on substrate characteristics, the relationship between the two is largely unexplored. We investigate spatial variations in aboveground biomass (AGB) across a structurally diverse mixed coniferous/deciduous forest with an order of magnitude erosion-rate gradient in the Northern Californian Sierra Nevada, USA, using high resolution LiDAR data and field plots. Mean basin slope, a proxy for erosion rate, accounts for 32% of variance in AGB within our field area (P <0.001), considerably outweighing the effects of mean annual precipitation, temperature, and bedrock lithology. This highlights erosion rate as a potentially important, but hitherto unappreciated, control on AGB and forest structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-38
Number of pages8
JournalEcology
Volume96
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

Keywords

  • biogeomorphology
  • biomass
  • ecological succession
  • erosion
  • landscape evolution
  • LiDAR
  • mixed-conifer forest
  • Sierra Nevada
  • topography
  • MIXED-CONIFER FOREST
  • SOIL PRODUCTION
  • SEDIMENT TRANSPORT
  • WEATHERED BEDROCK
  • AIRBORNE LIDAR
  • UNITED-STATES
  • LANDSCAPE
  • CALIFORNIA
  • EVOLUTION
  • CARBON

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