Topography shapes the structure, composition and function of tropical forest landscapes

Tommaso Jucker, Boris Bongalov, David Burslem, Reuben Nilus, Michele Dalponte, Simon L. Lewis, Oliver L. Phillips, Lan Qie, David A. Coomes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Topography is a key driver of tropical forest structure and composition, as it constrains local nutrient and hydraulic conditions within which trees grow. Yet we do not fully understand how changes in forest physiognomy driven by topography impact other emergent properties of forests, such as their aboveground carbon density (ACD). Working in Borneo – at a site where 70-m-tall forests in alluvial valleys rapidly transition to stunted heath forests on nutrient-depleted dip-slopes – we combined field data with airborne laser scanning and hyperspectral imaging to characterize how topography shapes the vertical structure, wood density, diversity and ACD of nearly 15 km2 of old-growth forest. We found that subtle differences in elevation – which control soil chemistry and hydrology – profoundly influenced the structure, composition and diversity of the canopy. Capturing these processes was critical to explaining landscape-scale heterogeneity in ACD, highlighting how emerging remote sensing technologies can provide new insights into longstanding ecological questions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-1000
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number7
Early online date16 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • aboveground carbon density
  • biodiversity
  • canopy height
  • gap fraction
  • hyperspectral imaging
  • airborne laser scanning (or LiDAR)
  • remote sensing
  • terrain elevation
  • slope and curvature
  • wood density


Dive into the research topics of 'Topography shapes the structure, composition and function of tropical forest landscapes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this