Allometric constraints and competition enable the simulation of size structure and carbon fluxes in a dynamic vegetation model of tropical forests (LM3PPA-TV)

Isabel Martínez Cano, Elena Shevliakova, Sergey Malyshev, S. Joseph Wright, Matteo Detto, Stephen W. Pacala, Helene C. Muller-Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Tropical forests are a key determinant of the functioning of the Earth system, but remain a major source of uncertainty in carbon cycle models and climate change projections. In this study, we present an updated land model (LM3PPA-TV) to improve the representation of tropical forest structure and dynamics in Earth system models (ESMs). The development and parameterization of LM3PPA-TV drew on extensive datasets on tropical tree traits and long-term field censuses from Barro Colorado Island (BCI), Panama. The model defines a new plant functional type (PFT) based on the characteristics of shade-tolerant, tropical tree species, implements a new growth allocation scheme based on realistic tree allometries, incorporates hydraulic constraints on biomass accumulation, and features a new compartment for tree branches and branch fall dynamics. Simulation experiments reproduced observed diurnal and seasonal patterns in stand-level carbon and water fluxes, as well as mean canopy and understory tree growth rates, tree size distributions, and stand-level biomass on BCI. Simulations at multiple sites captured considerable variation in biomass and size structure across the tropical forest biome, including observed responses to precipitation and temperature. Model experiments suggested a major role of water limitation in controlling geographic variation forest biomass and structure. However, the failure to simulate tropical forests under extreme conditions and the systematic underestimation of forest biomass in Paleotropical locations highlighted the need to incorporate variation in hydraulic traits and multiple PFTs that capture the distinct floristic composition across tropical domains. The continued pressure on tropical forests from global change demands models which are able to simulate alternative successional pathways and their pace to recovery. LM3PPA-TV provides a tool to investigate geographic variation in tropical forests and a benchmark to continue improving the representation of tropical forests dynamics and their carbon storage potential in ESMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4478-4494
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Barro Colorado Island
  • Earth system models
  • carbon cycle
  • forest production
  • tropical forest


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