Suitability of process-based tree growth models for addressing tree response to climate change

Environ Pollut. 2000 Oct;110(1):47-59. doi: 10.1016/s0269-7491(99)00289-4.


Empirical models of tree growth have been used for many years to predict timber yields and other properties of trees. However, such models rely on measured relationships between tree growth and historic environmental conditions. As anthropogenic actions alter the environment, especially atmospheric composition, empirical models become less reliable and process-based models become more useful. Process-based models are challenged to simulate growth of structurally and physiologically complex organisms using explicit mathematical expressions to capture growth response to environmental conditions. In this review we summarize the physiological requirements of process-based models and examine the capabilities of six published models (CARBON, ECOPHYS, PGSM, TREE-BGC, TREGRO, W91) for simulating tree response to changes in environmental conditions (elevated temperature, increased CO(2) concentration, and enhanced concentrations of tropospheric ozone). These analyses indicate that current models are reliable integrators of environmental effects on individual processes (e.g. photosynthesis), but may be less reliable where physiological acclimation occurs or when extrapolated to growth of specific tree compartments.