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Foliar nitrogen in relation to plant traits and reflectance properties of New Hampshire forests

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Several recent studies have shown that the mass-based concentration of nitrogen in foliage (%N) is positively correlated with canopy near-infrared reflectance (NIRr) and midsummer shortwave albedo across North American forests. Understanding the mechanisms behind this relationship would aid in interpretation of remote sensing imagery and improve our ability to predict changes in reflectance under future environmental conditions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which foliar nitrogen at leaf and canopy scales covary with leaf- and canopy-scale structural traits that are known to influence NIR scattering and reflectance. To accomplish this, we compared leaf and canopy traits with reflectance spectra at 17 mixed temperate forest stands. We found significant positive associations among %N and NIRr at both the leaf and canopy scale. At the canopy scale, both %N and NIRr were correlated with a number of structural traits as well as with the proportional abundance of deciduous and evergreen foliage. Identifying specific causal factors for observed reflectance patterns was complicated by interrelations among multiple traits across scales. Among simple metrics of canopy structure, we saw no relationship between NIRr and leaf area index, but we observed a strong, inverse relationship with the number of leaves per unit canopy volume.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Earth Systems Research Center, Morse Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA 2: Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, James Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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