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A model evaluation framework applied to the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) in Colorado and Wyoming lodgepole pine forests

Author(s): Benjamin A. Bagdon, Trung H. Nguyen, Anthony Vorster, Keith Paustian, John L. Field
Year Published: 2021

The Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) growth and yield model is widely used throughout the United States, but recent studies have reported unexpectedly large bias for some regional model variants. Here we propose a general framework for model evaluation, designed to highlight model strengths and weaknesses and inform calibration efforts. We apply the framework to evaluate the Lodgepole Pine (LP) model of the FVS Central Rockies Variant (FVS-CR), which has rarely been evaluated in the literature despite its widespread use in the western US. We started with a qualitative verification of the structure and logic of the FVS-CR LP model against a modified Bakuzis matrix, determining that it adequately reproduces known patterns of stand dynamics. We then compared stand-level growth simulations to a chronosequence developed from 554 Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots measured in Colorado and Wyoming lodgepole pine forests. This quantitative validation exercise revealed that the default model settings substantially over-predict basal area and total stand carbon after 50 years for both pure lodgepole pine stands and mixed lodgepole pine stands containing a minor proportion of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and quaking aspen. Using equivalence testing to validate the large-tree diameter increment model against a separate dataset of 3,790 remeasured trees on 124 lodgepole pine FIA plots, we found that the default FVS–CR LP model adequately predicts lodgepole diameter growth, though we observed large variation in model errors. Equivalence tests also revealed systematic under-estimation of spruce–fir and over-estimation of aspen productivity. Finally, we conducted a sensitivity analysis to identify the most important model parameters and data inputs driving simulated stand structure and carbon accumulation in both the short- (50 years) and long-term (200 years). The model shows the greatest sensitivity to initial species composition; a small proportion of aspen, spruce, or fir seedlings led to long-term stand re-structuring and greatly increased carbon accumulation. Other sensitive parameters included site index, the fixed large-tree diameter increment adjustment factor, and the parameter controlling the point at which density-dependent self-thinning begins (maximum stand density index). This evaluation leads us to conclude that the FVS-CR LP model tends to under-estimate tree mortality (particularly in young stands) and the default site index represents relatively high productivity stands, such that re-calibration may often be necessary to capture realistic long-term stand behaviors. Our sensitivity analysis provides guidance for future efforts to re-calibrate the FVS-CR LP model and highlights the importance of collecting site index and seedling species composition data wherever possible to produce the most realistic simulations.

Citation: Bagdon BA, Nguyen TH, Vorster A, Paustian K, and Field JL. 2021. A model evaluation framework applied to the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) in Colorado and Wyoming lodgepole pine forests. Forest Ecology and Management Volume 480, Article 118619. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118619
Topic(s): Fire & Fuels Modeling
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22554
Record updated: Feb 2, 2021