Extensions and evaluations of a general quantitative theory of forest structure and dynamics

Brian J. Enquist, Geoffrey B. West, James H. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


Here, we present the second part of a quantitative theory for the structure and dynamics of forests under demographic and resource steady state. The theory is based on individual-level allometric scaling relations for how trees use resources, fill space, and grow. These scale up to determine emergent properties of diverse forests, including size-frequency distributions, spacing relations, canopy configurations, mortality rates, population dynamics, succes-sional dynamics, and resource flux rates. The theory uniquely makes quantitative predictions for both stand-level scaling exponents and normalizations. We evaluate these predictions by compiling and analyzing macroecological datasetsfrom several tropical forests. The close match between theoretical predictions and data suggests that forests are organized by a set of very general scaling rules. Our mechanistic theory is based on allometric scaling relations, is complementary to "demographic theory," but is fundamentally different in approach. It provides a quantitative baseline for understanding deviations from predictions due to other factors, including disturbance, variation in branching architecture, asymmetric competition, resource limitation, and other sources of mortality, which are not included in the deliberately simplified theory. The theory should apply to a wide range of forests despite large differences in abiotic environment, species diversity, and taxo-nomic and functional composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7046-7051
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 28 2009


  • Allometry
  • Competitive thinning
  • Mortality rate
  • Plant ecology
  • Size distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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