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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Late-successional forests provide a unique opportunity to explore adaptive management approaches that mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels through carbon storage while also enhancing ecological resilience to novel climate and disturbances. Typical benchmarks for adaptive forest management include species diversity and structural complexity, which are widely considered to increase ecosystem stability and productivity. However, the role of functional trait diversity (e.g., variation in leaf and stem traits) in driving forest productivity and ecosystem resilience remains underexplored. We leveraged existing continuous forest inventory (CFI) data and collected local functional trait observations from CFI plots within late-successional forests in western Massachusetts to explore links between aboveground carbon storage and different types of forest diversity. We then fit a linear model within a Bayesian hierarchical framework applying functional diversity, species diversity, and structural complexity as predictors of live aboveground biomass (AGB) within CFI plots. Our framework integrates local functional trait information with database species mean trait values using a multivariate structure to account for inherent trait syndromes and estimate functional diversity in each plot. Across 626 plot-timepoints, we found that integrating individual functional trait information from co-located plots yielded the best predictions of live AGB. Contrary to expectations, functional diversity had a negative relationship with live AGB. Whereas plots with low functional diversity and higher AGB were dominated by mid-to-late successional hardwood species, plots with high functional diversity had more shade-intolerant species and lower AGB mediated by recent small-scale disturbances. Our results reveal an ontogenetic shift in the effects of functional diversity on AGB productivity over the course of succession in northeastern temperate forests. Corroborating with classical models of biomass development in late-successional northern hardwood forests, our findings support the need for adaptive forest carbon management to facilitate a mosaic of different forest successional stages across the landscape to maximize live aboveground carbon benefits in northeastern mixed hardwood forests.


First Advisor

Malcolm Itter

Second Advisor

Paul Catanzaro

Third Advisor

Miranda Curzon