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Keywords:

  • ecosystem dynamics;
  • terrestrial biosphere model;
  • net ecosystem productivity (NEP);
  • eastern United States;
  • ecosystem structure

[1] Insights into how terrestrial ecosystems affect the Earth's response to changes in climate and rising atmospheric CO2 levels rely heavily on the predictions of terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs). These models contain detailed mechanistic representations of biological processes affecting terrestrial ecosystems; however, their ability to simultaneously predict field-based measurements of terrestrial vegetation dynamics and carbon fluxes has remained largely untested. In this study, we address this issue by developing a constrained implementation of a new structured TBM, the Ecosystem Demography model version 2 (ED2), which explicitly tracks the dynamics of fine-scale ecosystem structure and function. Carbon and water flux measurements from an eddy-flux tower are used in conjunction with forest inventory measurements of tree growth and mortality at Harvard Forest (42.5°N, 72.1°W) to estimate a number of important but weakly constrained model parameters. Evaluation against a decade of tower flux and forest dynamics measurements shows that the constrained ED2 model yields greatly improved predictions of annual net ecosystem productivity, carbon partitioning, and growth and mortality dynamics of both hardwood and conifer trees. The generality of the model formulation is then evaluated by comparing the model's predictions against measurements from two other eddy-flux towers and forest inventories of the northeastern United States and Quebec. Despite the markedly different composition throughout this region, the optimized model realistically predicts observed patterns of carbon fluxes and tree growth. These results demonstrate how TBMs parameterized with field-based measurements can provide quantitative insight into the underlying biological processes governing ecosystem composition, structure, and function at larger scales.