Kelly Dobbins - Forest Canopy Lab

University of Miami, Miami FL

In a mature forest, the fall of a large tree or the drop of a sizable limb creates a gap, a vacant space that allows more light to penetrate to the forest floor.  Although ecologists have given gaps considerable attention, most gap research has focused on events at or near the ground level.  This was due to the physical obstacle of getting instruments all the way up into the forest canopy.  To take a step in a new direction (in this case, upwards), I studied the vertical microclimate of forest gaps.

Facilitated by sensors fitted on a 6m-tall Mylar balloon, I was able to collect temperature and relative humidity data from the forest floor all the way up to the top of the canopy.  I raised and lowered the balloon in order to obtain readings at multiple elevations.  I did this in each gap as well as at a location in the intact forest adjacent to the gap.

In total, I collected data from three gap/intact forest situations.  I compared the data from each gap with that of its intact forest counterpart in terms of temperature, relative humidity, absolute humidity, and saturation deficit (the latter two values were calculated from the former two).  I found that as gap size increases, the differences between the gap conditions and intact forest conditions generally increase.

Canopy gap created by a hurricane


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