Comparing the performance of forest gap models in North America

Harald K.M. Bugmann, Stan D. Wullschleger, David T. Price, Kiona Ogle, Donald F. Clark, Allen M. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Forest gap models have a long history in the study of forest dynamics, including predicting long-term succession patterns and assessing the potential impacts of climate change and air pollution on forest structure and composition. In most applications, existing models are adapted for the specific question at hand and little effort is devoted to evaluating alternative formulations for key processes, although this has the potential to significantly influence model behavior. In the present study, we explore the implications of alternative formulations for selected ecological processes via the comparison of several gap models. Baseline predictions of forest biomass, composition and size structure generated by several gap models are compared to each other and to measured data at boreal and temperate sites in North America. The models ForClim and LINKAGES v2.0 were compared based on simulations of a temperate forest site in Tennessee, whereas FORSKA-2V, BOREALIS and For-Clim were compared at four boreal forest sites in central and eastern Canada. Results for present-day conditions were evaluated on their success in predicting forest cover, species composition, total biomass and stand density, and allocation of biomass among species. In addition, the sensitivity of each model to climatic changes was investigated using a suite of six climate change scenarios involving temperature and precipitation. In the temperate forest simulations, both ForClim and LINKAGES v2.0 predicted mixed mesophytic forests dominated by oak species, which is expected for this region of Tennessee. The models differed in their predictions of species composition as well as with respect to the simulated rates of succession. Simulated forest dynamics under the changed climates were qualitatively similar between the two models, although aboveground biomass and species composition in ForClim was more sensitive to drought than in LINKAGES v2.0. Under a warmer climate, the modeled effects of temperature on tree growth in LINKAGES v2.0 led to the unrealistic loss of several key species. In the boreal forest simulations, ForClim predicted significant forest growth at only the most mesic site, and failed to predict a realistic species composition. In contrast, FORSKA-2V and BOREALIS were successful in simulating forest cover, general species composition, and biomass at most sites. In the climate change scenarios, ForClim was highly sensitive, whereas the other two models exhibited sensitivity only at the drier central Canadian sites. Although the studied sites differ strongly with respect to both the climatic regime and the set of dominating species, a unifying feature emerged from these simulation exercises. The major differences in model behavior were brought about by differences in the internal representations of the seasonal water balance, and they point to an important limitation in some gap model formulations for assessing climate change impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-388
Number of pages40
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparing the performance of forest gap models in North America'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this