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Drivers of leaf area index variation in Brazilian Subtropical Atlantic Forests

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Marion PfeiferORCiD, Dr Zarah PattisonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2020 Elsevier B.V. The Atlantic Forest, a global biodiversity hotspot, has changed dramatically due to land use pressures causing deforestation, degradation, and forest fragmentation. A major challenge is to understand and potentially mitigate the consequences of these changes, for the capacity of forests to deliver essential environmental services to rural areas. Here, we focus on unraveling the mechanisms underpinning spatial variation in forest leaf area index. Forest leaf area index can be used as an environmental indicator that controls key forest functions underlying environmental services and is also expected to respond to land use change. Specifically, we use Structural Equation Modelling to determine the direct and indirect pathways that link environmental drivers to canopy leaf area index (LAI) variation across forest types in the Atlantic Forest in Southern Brazil. We sampled 240 sample units (each 4000 m2), from a systematic and permanent forest inventory set which covers the State of Santa Catarina in a 10 km × 10 km grid, using hemispherical photographs. Environmental variables were extracted for each sample unit, including climatic and topographic data as well as indicators of anthropogenic pressure. Our results showed that forest types differed in their leaf area index (but not all of them) and that forest canopies show complex responses to environmental drivers, encompassing direct and indirect pathways. A major pathway was the positive effect of ‘Distance to city’ on the ‘Percentage of cropland in the matrix’. This led to a decline in the distance of the sample unit to the forest edge, indirectly reducing LAI, presumably because of elevated tree mortality at the forest edge. ‘Terrain steepness’ and ‘Rainfall in the driest month’ independently affected the ‘Percentage of cropland in the matrix’ and the ‘Distance to forest edge’. Halting forest fragmentation and increasing fragment size by landscape planning will mitigate these anthropogenic LAI declines. This can be achieved with a combination of legal and market mechanisms, like enforcement of the Brazilian Forest Act regulation on buffer zones around water bodies and steep slopes, landscape planning, and payment for environmental services to compensate the farmers for maintaining forest cover on otherwise productive land.

Publication metadata

Author(s): da Silva DA, Pfeifer M, Pattison Z, Vibrans AC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Forest Ecology and Management

Year: 2020

Volume: 476

Print publication date: 15/11/2020

Online publication date: 07/08/2020

Acceptance date: 30/07/2020

Date deposited: 17/08/2020

ISSN (print): 0378-1127

ISSN (electronic): 1872-7042

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118477


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