Drivers of leaf area index variation in Brazilian Subtropical Atlantic Forests



da Silva DA, Pfeifer M, Pattison Z & Vibrans AC (2020) Drivers of leaf area index variation in Brazilian Subtropical Atlantic Forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 476, Art. No.: 118477.

The Atlantic Forest, a global biodiversity hotspot, has changed dramatically due to land use pressures causing deforestation, degradation, and forest fragmentation. A major challenge is to understand and potentially mitigate the consequences of these changes, for the capacity of forests to deliver essential environmental services to rural areas. Here, we focus on unraveling the mechanisms underpinning spatial variation in forest leaf area index. Forest leaf area index can be used as an environmental indicator that controls key forest functions underlying environmental services and is also expected to respond to land use change. Specifically, we use Structural Equation Modelling to determine the direct and indirect pathways that link environmental drivers to canopy leaf area index (LAI) variation across forest types in the Atlantic Forest in Southern Brazil. We sampled 240 sample units (each 4000 m2), from a systematic and permanent forest inventory set which covers the State of Santa Catarina in a 10 km × 10 km grid, using hemispherical photographs. Environmental variables were extracted for each sample unit, including climatic and topographic data as well as indicators of anthropogenic pressure. Our results showed that forest types differed in their leaf area index (but not all of them) and that forest canopies show complex responses to environmental drivers, encompassing direct and indirect pathways. A major pathway was the positive effect of ‘Distance to city’ on the ‘Percentage of cropland in the matrix’. This led to a decline in the distance of the sample unit to the forest edge, indirectly reducing LAI, presumably because of elevated tree mortality at the forest edge. ‘Terrain steepness’ and ‘Rainfall in the driest month’ independently affected the ‘Percentage of cropland in the matrix’ and the ‘Distance to forest edge’. Halting forest fragmentation and increasing fragment size by landscape planning will mitigate these anthropogenic LAI declines. This can be achieved with a combination of legal and market mechanisms, like enforcement of the Brazilian Forest Act regulation on buffer zones around water bodies and steep slopes, landscape planning, and payment for environmental services to compensate the farmers for maintaining forest cover on otherwise productive land.

Leaf area index; Structural equation model; Hemiospherical photograph; National forest inventory

Forest Ecology and Management: Volume 476

FundersNewcastle University
Publication date15/11/2020
Publication date online07/08/2020
Date accepted by journal30/07/2020
PublisherElsevier BV

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Dr Zarah Pattison

Dr Zarah Pattison

Senior Lecturer in Plant Sciences, Biological and Environmental Sciences