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Interactive effects of press and pulse disturbances on biogeochemical cycling of a wet tropical forest in Puerto Rico

Active Dates 8/15/2021-8/14/2024
Program Area Environmental Systems Science
Project Description
Tropical forests represent one of Earth’s most active biogeochemical engines: Although only ~12% of the planet’s terrestrial surface supports tropical forests, they account for over 2/3 of live terrestrial plant biomass, nearly one-third of all soil carbon, and these forests exchange more carbon dioxide with the atmosphere than any other terrestrial biome. The primary objective of the proposed work is to use a one-of-a kind field warming experiment in Puerto Rico and a cutting-edge modeling approach to advance a robust, predictive understanding of how the individual and interacting disturbances of increasing temperatures and altered precipitation affect above- and belowground carbon cycling in tropical forested ecosystems.  The Tropical Responses to Altered Climate Experiment (TRACE) in Puerto Rico is the only field warming experiment in the world that integrates both plant and soil warming in a tropical forest, and thus is uniquely positioned to investigate and model the controls and interactions critical to forecasting tropical forest responses to a changing climate. In particular, TRACE has amassed an exceptional dataset of above- and belowground processes and conditions that include identification of the individual and interacting effects of multi-year in situ warming, natural extreme climatic disturbances (e.g., drought, large precipitation events), and associated changes to forest communities and biogeochemical cycles. With the help of TRACE’s long-time modeling partners, the project is ready to incorporate data from multiple facets of TRACE inquiry into a synthetic modeling framework, as well as iteratively collect new data to assess the potential for acclimation over the longer-term as well as advance the understanding and capacity to numerically represent these productive ecosystems. The team will integrate and scale complex above- and belowground processes using ELM, the land component of the DOE Earth System Model (E3SM) , coupled with a model that represents vegetation demography (FATES). The effort proposed here enables the synthesis of whole-forest effects of warming and precipitation disturbance, from 1-meter deep in the soil to the tops of the canopy, and to directly address the DOE missions to develop fruitful dialogs between modelers and experimentalists and investigate ecosystem responses, feedbacks, and recovery from extremes events and chronic perturbations. Our ability to accurately represent tropical forests in climate models lags far behind that of many temperate ecosystems and, as a result, they account for numerous large uncertainties and biases in ESMs. We have developed an integrative, hypothesis-driven approach to directly address this large gap in existing state-of-the-art models and to significantly advance our understanding of how tropical forest carbon cycling will respond to global change.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Michigan Technological University (PI: Cavaleri, Molly)
  • US Geological Survey (PI: Reed, Sasha)