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An ecohydrological approach to managing dryland forests: Integration of leaf area metrics into assessment and management

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We review the use of leaf area metrics (LAM) for assessing and managing dryland forests. We propose a framework integrating individual tree to whole-ecosystem metrics representing a variety of forest features and review theory, empirical evidence and knowledge gaps. Four basic concepts underlie the LAM framework: (1) Max-LAI - an ecosystem can be characterized by an upper potential leaf area index (LAI) dictated mainly by water availability, (2) Leaf area distribution - the distribution of leaf area is proportional to the distribution of resources among vegetation components, (3) Safe-LAI - maintaining Ecosystem-LAI below Max-LAI is a way to reduce drought stress and (4) tree leaf area (TLA) - the leaf area of an individual tree as a proportion of its potential TLA, represents its vigour. Implementation of the LAM strategy requires the following: (1) better understanding how edaphic conditions and vegetation characteristics interact with climate in determining Max-LAI, (2) better understanding how leaf area is related to water use across species, vegetation strata and light regimes, (3) better understanding the interaction between LAI development and stand dynamics, (4) better capability of measuring or estimating individual tree leaf area and (5) development of species-specific references for tree vigour based on leaf area. The LAM strategy is promising for managing dryland forests under increasing drought stress.

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