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Tree Physiol. 2004 Jan;24(1):1-18.

Modeling topographic effects on net ecosystem productivity of boreal black spruce forests.

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  • 1Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E3, Canada.


Current regional estimates of net primary productivity (NPP) of boreal black spruce overlook the large variation in NPP caused by small-scale topographic effects on soil water, temperature and nutrient availability. Topographic effects on black spruce NPP could likely be modeled by simulating the lateral and vertical movement of water, and its effects on soil nutrient transformation and uptake, through three-dimensional watersheds defined by aspects and slopes of their topographic positions. To examine this likelihood, the ecosystem model 'ecosys' was run for 120 years on a transect that included upper- and lower-slope positions and a basin in which a basal water table was set 0.5 m below the soil surface. For the run, we used soil properties and weather conditions recorded at the 115-year-old BOREAS Southern Old Black Spruce site. Short-term model performance was tested by comparing diurnal and annual carbon (C) transfers simulated under 1994 weather conditions during the 115th year of the model run with those measured at this site during 1994 by eddy covariance, surface chambers and allometry. After 115 years, annual spruce NPP simulated at the upper-slope positions was twice that at the basin (350 versus 170 g C m-2), whereas accumulated wood C was almost three times as large (6.8 versus 2.4 kg C m-2). In the model, increases in NPP and wood growth in upper-slope positions were caused by lower soil water contents, higher soil temperatures, and more rapid O2 uptake that accelerated heterotrophic respiration and hence nutrient mineralization and uptake. Modeled differences in wood growth with topographic position were quantitatively consistent with measurements of boreal black spruce at several research sites differing in water table depth. Modeled differences also agreed with differences in wood growth rates derived from allometric measurements at boreal black spruce sites differing in productivity indices as a result of differences in subsurface hydrology. The magnitude of these differences clearly indicates the importance of accounting for subsurface hydrology in regional estimates of boreal forest productivity.

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