Marielle Smith

Current Position: Research associate at Michigan State University

PhD, University of Arizona, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 2016

I explore how environmental variations in temperature and precipitation affect tropical forest canopy structure, and how this, in turn, affects forest function. Characterising how climatic variations affect forest structure and function is particularly important in tropical forests, which are globally important carbon stores that have already shown vulnerability to climate change. The future of tropical forest carbon stocks is highly uncertain, with plant physiological responses representing the largest source of model uncertainties. As such, my research comprises empirical investigations into how tropical forests will respond to high temperatures and drought. My study sites include the tropical forest biome at Biosphere 2 (B2) and natural sites in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.

I am investigating how tropical forest canopy structure responds to seasonal dry periods and anomalous droughts on seasonal and interannual timescales, using data from ground-based LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). Combining long-term LiDAR measurements with tree inventory data provides a way to identify the mechanisms (i.e., changes in leaf area and/or woody biomass) responsible for structural changes associated with drought-induced disturbances and subsequent periods of forest recovery.

To understand the response of tropical forests to high temperatures, I am comparing the temperature response of gross ecosystem productivity in an experimentally warmed forest—the B2 tropical forest biome—with natural tropical forests using eddy-covariance data.


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