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Improving estimates of tree mortality probability using potential growth rate

June 24, 2015

Tree growth rate is frequently used to estimate mortality probability. Yet, growth metrics can vary in form, and the justification for using one over another is rarely clear. We tested whether a growth index (GI) that scales the realized diameter growth rate against the potential diameter growth rate (PDGR) would give better estimates of mortality probability than other measures. We also tested whether PDGR, being a function of tree size, might better correlate with the baseline mortality probability than direct measurements of size such as diameter or basal area. Using a long-term dataset from the Sierra Nevada, California, U.S.A., as well as existing species-specific estimates of PDGR, we developed growth–mortality models for four common species. For three of the four species, models that included GI, PDGR, or a combination of GI and PDGR were substantially better than models without them. For the fourth species, the models including GI and PDGR performed roughly as well as a model that included only the diameter growth rate. Our results suggest that using PDGR can improve our ability to estimate tree survival probability. However, in the absence of PDGR estimates, the diameter growth rate was the best empirical predictor of mortality, in contrast to assumptions often made in the literature.