Maintenance of ecosystem nitrogen limitation by ephemeral forest disturbance: An assessment using MODIS, Hyperion, and Landsat ETM+

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Abstract

[1] Ephemeral disturbances, such as non-lethal insect defoliations and crown damage from meteorological events, can significantly affect the delivery of ecosystem services by helping maintain nitrogen (N) limitation in temperate forest ecosystems. However, the impacts of these disturbances are difficult to observe across the broad-scales at which they affect ecosystem function. Using remotely sensed measures and field data, we find support for the hypothesis that ephemeral disturbances help maintain landscape-wide ecosystem N limitation. Specifically, a phenology-based defoliation index derived from daily MODIS satellite imagery predicts three ecosystem responses from oak-dominated forested watersheds: elevated stream water N export (R2 = 0.48), decreased foliar N (R2 = 0.69, assessed with Hyperion imagery), and reduced vegetation growth vigor (R2 = 0.49, assessed with Landsat ETM+ imagery). The results indicate that ephemeral disturbances and other forest stressors may sustain N limitation by reducing the ability of trees to compete for –and retain- soil available N.

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