Tropical plants and ecosystem function

Published: 11 April 2017

Tropical forests account for about one third of global productivity and terrestrial metabolism, yet remain poorly understood in terms of plant ecophysiology and ecosystem ecology. Many prevailing paradigms developed through research on temperate ecosystems, such as close correlations between leaf nitrogen and photosynthetic capacity, seem to be only weakly relevant to many tropical forest systems. The high plant diversity and species turnover of most tropical forests also present challenges to finding general insights, and from scaling from intensively studied field sites to wider landscapes and whole biomes. The advent of traits-based approaches, coupled with hyperspectral remote sensing of key leaf traits, offers new possibilities of assessing tropical forest ecophysiology at scale. This collection of seven papers explores some of the latest advances in the context of Amazonian and Andean forests, on scales ranging from leaf traits and gas exchange, through to plot-level productivity and carbon dynamics to the assessment of key traits through hyperspectral remote sensing approaches. Many of the papers focus on a model elevation gradient in the Amazon-Andes of Peru, while others compare results from Peru with other sites across the tropics. In combination, the papers show the potential of describing the spatial and temporal variation of key canopy leaf traits through hyperspectral approaches, including monitoring leaf age through remote sensing, but also highlight some intriguing challenges remaining in relating these leaf traits to photosynthesis, respiration and ecosystem productivity. These papers point the way to some exciting new avenues for tropical ecosystem ecophysiology in the coming years. 

Yadvinder Malhi, Feature Co-ordinator
University of Oxford, UK
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