Global importance of large-diameter trees

James A. Lutz, Tucker J. Furniss, Daniel J. Johnson, Stuart J. Davies, David Allen, Alfonso Alonso, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Ana Andrade, Jennifer Baltzer, Kendall M.L. Becker, Erika M. Blomdahl, Norman A. Bourg, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, David F.R.P. Burslem, C. Alina Cansler, Ke Cao, Min Cao, Dairon Cárdenas, Li Wan Chang, Kuo Jung ChaoWei Chun Chao, Jyh Min Chiang, Chengjin Chu, George B. Chuyong, Keith Clay, Richard Condit, Susan Cordell, Handanakere S. Dattaraja, Alvaro Duque, Corneille E.N. Ewango, Gunter A. Fischer, Christine Fletcher, James A. Freund, Christian Giardina, Sara J. Germain, Gregory S. Gilbert, Zhanqing Hao, Terese Hart, Billy C.H. Hau, Fangliang He, Andrew Hector, Robert W. Howe, Chang Fu Hsieh, Yue Hua Hu, Stephen P. Hubbell, Faith M. Inman-Narahari, Akira Itoh, David Janík, Abdul Rahman Kassim, David Kenfack, Lisa Korte, Kamil Král, Andrew J. Larson, Yi De Li, Yiching Lin, Shirong Liu, Shawn Lum, Keping Ma, Jean Remy Makana, Yadvinder Malhi, Sean M. McMahon, William J. McShea, Hervé R. Memiaghe, Xiangcheng Mi, Michael Morecroft, Paul M. Musili, Jonathan A. Myers, Vojtech Novotny, Alexandre de Oliveira, Perry Ong, David A. Orwig, Rebecca Ostertag, Geoffrey G. Parker, Rajit Patankar, Richard P. Phillips, Glen Reynolds, Lawren Sack, Guo Zhang M. Song, Sheng Hsin Su, Raman Sukumar, I. Fang Sun, Hebbalalu S. Suresh, Mark E. Swanson, Sylvester Tan, Duncan W. Thomas, Jill Thompson, Maria Uriarte, Renato Valencia, Alberto Vicentini, Tomáš Vrška, Xugao Wang, George D. Weiblen, Amy Wolf, Shu Hui Wu, Han Xu, Takuo Yamakura, Sandra Yap, Jess K. Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

329 Scopus citations


Aim: To examine the contribution of large-diameter trees to biomass, stand structure, and species richness across forest biomes. Location: Global. Time period: Early 21st century. Major taxa studied: Woody plants. Methods: We examined the contribution of large trees to forest density, richness and biomass using a global network of 48 large (from 2 to 60 ha) forest plots representing 5,601,473 stems across 9,298 species and 210 plant families. This contribution was assessed using three metrics: the largest 1% of trees ≥ 1 cm diameter at breast height (DBH), all trees ≥ 60 cm DBH, and those rank-ordered largest trees that cumulatively comprise 50% of forest biomass. Results: Averaged across these 48 forest plots, the largest 1% of trees ≥ 1 cm DBH comprised 50% of aboveground live biomass, with hectare-scale standard deviation of 26%. Trees ≥ 60 cm DBH comprised 41% of aboveground live tree biomass. The size of the largest trees correlated with total forest biomass (r2 =.62, p <.001). Large-diameter trees in high biomass forests represented far fewer species relative to overall forest richness (r2 =.45, p <.001). Forests with more diverse large-diameter tree communities were comprised of smaller trees (r2 =.33, p <.001). Lower large-diameter richness was associated with large-diameter trees being individuals of more common species (r2 =.17, p =.002). The concentration of biomass in the largest 1% of trees declined with increasing absolute latitude (r2 =.46, p <.001), as did forest density (r2 =.31, p <.001). Forest structural complexity increased with increasing absolute latitude (r2 =.26, p <.001). Main conclusions: Because large-diameter trees constitute roughly half of the mature forest biomass worldwide, their dynamics and sensitivities to environmental change represent potentially large controls on global forest carbon cycling. We recommend managing forests for conservation of existing large-diameter trees or those that can soon reach large diameters as a simple way to conserve and potentially enhance ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-864
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • SPECIES diversity
  • FOREST density
  • GLOBAL environmental change
  • FOREST biomass
  • FOREST conservation
  • forest biomass
  • forest structure
  • large-diameter trees
  • latitudinal gradient
  • resource inequality
  • Smithsonian ForestGEO


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