Biotic and Abiotic Controls Over Canopy Function and Structure in Humid Hawaiian Forests

Christopher S. Balzotti, Gregory P. Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Foliar nitrogen (N) plays a key role in ecosystem function and dynamics, including processes such as photosynthesis, productivity, and decomposition. Aboveground carbon density (ACD Mg C ha−1) represents a cumulative functional outcome of these and other ecosystem processes and is an important metric for monitoring current carbon stocks. Despite their importance, multiple interacting controls over landscape-level variation in foliar N and ACD are poorly understood. We assessed the relative importance of individual ecologically important state factors (climate, substrate, age, vegetation, and topography) associated with canopy foliar N and ACD throughout a humid forest landscape. We combined high-resolution remotely sensed data, machine learning, and field data to map and assess canopy foliar N and ACD patterns across a 5016-ha forest reserve in Hawai‘i. Distance to non-native forests had the largest relative influence on canopy foliar N concentration, followed by mean annual temperature (MAT), vegetation type, precipitation, soil, canopy height, and substrate age. In contrast, soil type was the strongest determinant of spatial variability in ACD, followed by precipitation, MAT, and vegetation type. Similar to foliar N, climate and vegetation variables were associated with ACD. However, soil type was found to be much more important in the ACD model (30%) than in the foliar N model (4%). Landscape-scale patterns in canopy foliar N and ACD are the result of shifts in vegetation type and composition, most likely due to species’ responses to past disturbances, current climate conditions, and available nutrients. Degradation of native forests and future climate changes could result in highly altered biogeochemical cycles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-348
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • carbon storage
  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • foliar nitrogen
  • gradient boosting
  • LiDAR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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