loading page

Unravelling Forest Complexity: Resource Use Efficiency, Disturbance, and the Structure-Function Relationship
  • +2
  • Bailey A. Murphy,
  • Jacob A. May,
  • Brian J. Butterworth,
  • Christian G. Andresen,
  • Ankur Rashmikant Desai
Bailey A. Murphy
Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Jacob A. May
Department of Geography
Author Profile
Brian J. Butterworth
3Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder
Author Profile
Christian G. Andresen
University of Wisconsin Madison
Author Profile
Ankur Rashmikant Desai
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Author Profile


Structurally complex forests optimize light and water resources to assimilate carbon more effectively, leading to higher productivity. Information obtained from Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-derived structural complexity (SC) metrics across spatial scales serves as a powerful indicator of ecosystem-scale functions such as gross primary productivity (GPP). However, our understanding of mechanistic links between forest structure and function, and the impact of disturbance on the relationship, is limited. Here, we paired eddy covariance measurements of carbon and water fluxes in temperate forests collected in the CHEESEHEAD19 field campaign with drone LiDAR measurements of SC to establish which SC metrics were strong drivers of GPP, and tested potential mediators of the relationship. Mechanistic relationships were inspected at four metric calculation resolutions to determine whether relationships persisted with scale. Vertical heterogeneity metrics were the most influential in predicting productivity for forests with a significant degree of heterogeneity in management, forest type, and species composition. SC metrics included in the structure-function relationship as well as the strength of drivers was dependent on metric calculation resolution. The relationship was mediated by light use efficiency (LUE) and water use efficiency (WUE), with WUE being a stronger mediator and driver of GPP. These findings allow us to improve representation in ecosystem models of how SC impacts light and water-sensitive processes, and ultimately GPP. Improved models enhance our ability to simulate true ecosystem responses to management, resulting in a more accurate assessment of forest responses to management regimes and furthering our ability to assess climate mitigation and strategies.