The Allometry of Coarse Root Biomass: Log-Transformed Linear Regression or Nonlinear Regression?

Document Type


Publication Date

August 2013


Precise estimation of root biomass is important for understanding carbon stocks and dynamics in forests. Traditionally, biomass estimates are based on allometric scaling relationships between stem diameter and coarse root biomass calculated using linear regression (LR) on log-transformed data. Recently, it has been suggested that nonlinear regression (NLR) is a preferable fitting method for scaling relationships. But while this claim has been contested on both theoretical and empirical grounds, and statistical methods have been developed to aid in choosing between the two methods in particular cases, few studies have examined the ramifications of erroneously applying NLR. Here, we use direct measurements of 159 trees belonging to three locally dominant species in east China to compare the LR and NLR models of diameter-root biomass allometry. We then contrast model predictions by estimating stand coarse root biomass based on census data from the nearby 24-ha Gutianshan forest plot and by testing the ability of the models to predict known root biomass values measured on multiple tropical species at the Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia. Based on likelihood estimates for model error distributions, as well as the accuracy of extrapolative predictions, we find that LR on log-transformed data is superior to NLR for fitting diameter-root biomass scaling models. More importantly, inappropriately using NLR leads to grossly inaccurate stand biomass estimates, especially for stands dominated by smaller trees.