The allocation of the net primary productivity (NPP) of an ecosystem between canopy, woody tissue and fine roots is an important descriptor of the functioning of that ecosystem, and an important feature to correctly represent in terrestrial ecosystem models. Here, we collate and analyse a global dataset of NPP allocation in tropical forests, and compare this with the representation of NPP allocation in 13 terrestrial ecosystem models. On average, the data suggest an equal partitioning of allocation between all three main components (mean 34 ± 6% canopy, 39 ± 10% wood, 27 ± 11% fine roots), but there is substantial site-to-site variation in allocation to woody tissue versus allocation to fine roots. Allocation to canopy (leaves, flowers and fruit) shows much less variance. The mean allocation of the ecosystem models is close to the mean of the data, but the spread is much greater, with several models reporting allocation partitioning outside of the spread of the data. Where all main components of NPP cannot be measured, litterfall is a good predictor of overall NPP (r(2) = 0.83 for linear fit forced through origin), stem growth is a moderate predictor and fine root production a poor predictor. Across sites the major component of variation of allocation is a shifting allocation between wood and fine roots, with allocation to the canopy being a relatively invariant component of total NPP. This suggests the dominant allocation trade-off is a 'fine root versus wood' trade-off, as opposed to the expected 'root-shoot' trade-off; such a trade-off has recently been posited on theoretical grounds for old-growth forest stands. We conclude by discussing the systematic biases in estimates of allocation introduced by missing NPP components, including herbivory, large leaf litter and root exudates production. These biases have a moderate effect on overall carbon allocation estimates, but are smaller than the observed range in allocation values across sites.
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