Relationships between net primary productivity and forest stand age in U.S. forests



[1] Net primary productivity (NPP) is a key flux in the terrestrial ecosystem carbon balance, as it summarizes the autotrophic input into the system. Forest NPP varies predictably with stand age, and quantitative information on the NPP-age relationship for different regions and forest types is therefore fundamentally important for forest carbon cycle modeling. We used four terms to calculate NPP: annual accumulation of live biomass, annual mortality of aboveground and belowground biomass, foliage turnover to soil, and fine root turnover in soil. For U.S. forests the first two terms can be reliably estimated from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data. Although the last two terms make up more than 50% of total NPP, direct estimates of these fluxes are highly uncertain due to limited availability of empirical relationships between aboveground biomass and foliage or fine root biomass. To resolve this problem, we developed a new approach using maps of leaf area index (LAI) and forest age at 1 km resolution to derive LAI-age relationships for 18 major forest type groups in the USA. These relationships were then used to derive foliage turnover estimates using species-specific trait data for leaf specific area and longevity. These turnover estimates were also used to derive the fine root turnover based on reliable relationships between fine root and foliage turnover. This combination of FIA data, remote sensing, and plant trait information allows for the first empirical and reliable NPP-age relationships for different forest types in the USA. The relationships show a general temporal pattern of rapid increase in NPP in the young ages of forest type groups, peak growth in the middle ages, and slow decline in the mature ages. The predicted patterns are influenced by climate conditions and can be affected by forest management. These relationships were further generalized to three major forest biomes for use by continental-scale carbon cycle models in conjunction with remotely sensed land cover types.