Abrupt Change in Forest Height along a Tropical Elevation Gradient Detected Using Airborne Lidar

Wolf, Jeffrey; Brocard, Gilles; Willenbring, Jane; Porder, Stephen; Uriarte, Maria

Most research on vegetation in mountain ranges focuses on elevation gradients as climate gradients, but elevation gradients are also the result of geological processes that build and deconstruct mountains. Recent findings from the Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico, have raised questions about whether erosion rates that vary due to past tectonic events and are spatially patterned in relation to elevation may drive vegetation patterns along elevation gradients. Here we use airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to observe forest height over the Luquillo Mountain Range. We show that models with different functional forms for the two prominent bedrock types best describe the forest height-elevation patterns. On one bedrock type there are abrupt decreases in forest height with elevation approximated by a sigmoidal function, with the inflection point near the elevation of where other studies have shown there to be a sharp change in erosion rates triggered by a tectonic uplift event that began approximately 4.2 My ago. Our findings are consistent with broad geologically mediated vegetation patterns along the elevation gradient, consistent with a role for mountain building and deconstructing processes.

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Remote Sensing

More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
June 23, 2017