A process-based model of conifer forest structure and function with special emphasis on leaf lifespan



[1] We describe the University of Sheffield Conifer Model (USCM), a process-based approach for simulating conifer forest carbon, nitrogen, and water fluxes by up-scaling widely applicable relationships between leaf lifespan and function. The USCM is designed to predict and analyze the biogeochemistry and biophysics of conifer forests that dominated the ice-free high-latitude regions under the high pCO2 “greenhouse” world 290–50 Myr ago. It will be of use in future research investigating controls on the contrasting distribution of ancient evergreen and deciduous forests between hemispheres, and their differential feedbacks on polar climate through the exchange of energy and materials with the atmosphere. Emphasis is placed on leaf lifespan because this trait can be determined from the anatomical characteristics of fossil conifer woods and influences a range of ecosystem processes. Extensive testing of simulated net primary production and partitioning, leaf area index, evapotranspiration, nitrogen uptake, and land surface energy partitioning showed close agreement with observations from sites across a wide climatic gradient. This indicates the generic utility of our model, and adequate representation of the key processes involved in forest function using only information on leaf lifespan, climate, and soils.