Predicting tropical tree mortality with leaf spectroscopy

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Christopher Doughty , Alexander W. Cheesman, Terhi Ruitta, Eleanor Thomson, Alexander Shenkin, Walter Huaraca Huasco, Andrew Nottingham, Elizabeth M. Telford, Noreen Majalap, Patrick Meir


Do tropical trees close to death have a distinct leaf spectral signature? Tree mortality rates have been increasing in tropical forests globally which is reducing the global carbon sink. Upcoming hyperspectral satellites could be used to predict regions close to experiencing extensive tree mortality during periods of stress like drought. Here we show how imminent tropical tree mortality in Borneo impacts leaf physiological traits and reflectance. We measured leaf reflectance (400-2500 nm), light saturated photosynthesis (Asat), leaf dark respiration (Rdark), and leaf mass area (LMA) across five campaigns in a six-month period during which there were two causes of mortality: a major drought and a co-incident tree stem girdling campaign. We find that prior to mortality, there were significant (P<0.05) leaf spectral changes in the red (650-700 nm), the NIR (1000 -1400 nm) and SWIR bands (2000-2400 nm) and significant reductions in the potential carbon balance of the leaves (increased Rdark and reduced Asat). We show that the partial least squares regression (PLSR) technique can predict mortality in tropical trees across different species and functional groups with medium precision but low accuracy (r2 of 0.65 and RMSE/mean of 0.58). However, most tree death in our study was due to girdling, which is not a natural form of death. More research is needed to determine if this spectroscopy technique can be applied to tropical forests in general.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Forest Biology, Forest Sciences, Life Sciences, Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Other Plant Sciences, Plant Sciences


drought, El NiƱo, girdling, spectroscopy, traits, tree mortality, tropical forests


Published: 2020-04-21 22:38

Last Updated: 2020-06-22 13:15

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Data will be available upon acceptance at journal.