Leaf area and its spatial distribution are key canopy parameters needed to model the radiation regime within a forest and to compute the mass and energy exchange between a forest and the atmosphere. A much larger proportion of available net radiation is received at the forest floor in open-canopy forests than in closed-canopy forests. The proportion of ecosystem water vapor exchange (λE) and sensible heat exchange from the forest floor is therefore expected to be larger in open-canopy forests than in closed-canopy forests.
We used a combination of optical and canopy geometry measurements, and robust one- and three-dimensional models to evaluate the influence of canopy architecture and radiative transfer on estimates of carbon, water and energy exchange of a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws.) forest. Three-dimensional model simulations showed that the average probability of diffuse and direct radiation transmittance to the forest floor was greater than if a random distribution of foliage had been assumed. Direct and diffuse radiation transmittance to the forest floor was 28 and 39%, respectively, in the three-dimensional model simulations versus 23 and 31%, respectively, in the one-dimensional model simulations. The assumption of randomly distributed foliage versus inclusion of clumping factors in a one-dimensional, multi-layer biosphere-atmosphere gas exchange model (CANVEG) had the greatest effect on simulated annual net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and soil evaporation. Assuming random distribution, NEE was 41% lower, net photosynthesis 3% lower, total λE 10% lower, and soil evaporation 40% lower. The same comparisons at LAI 5 showed a similar effect on annual NEE estimates (37%) and λE (12%), but a much larger effect on net photosynthesis (20%), suggesting that, at low LAI, canopies are mostly sunlit, so that redistribution of light has little effect on net photosynthesis, whereas the effect on net photosynthesis is much greater at high LAIs.