Forest gap models have been applied widely to examine forest development under natural conditions and to investigate the effect of climate change on forest succession. Due to the complexity and parameter requirements of such models a rigorous evaluation is required to build confidence in the simulation results. However, appropriate data for model assessment are scarce at the large spatial and temporal scales of successional dynamics. In this study, we explore a data source for the evaluation of forest gap models that has been used only little in the past, i.e., large-scale National Forest Inventory data. The key objectives of this study were (a) to examine the potentials and limitations of using large-scale forest inventory data for evaluating the performance of forest gap models and (b) to test two particular models as case studies to derive recommendations for their future improvement. We used data from the first Swiss National Forest Inventory to examine the species basal area and tree numbers in different diameter classes simulated by the gap models ForClim (version 2.9.3) and PICUS (version 1.4) for forest types that are typical of mountain forests in Switzerland. The results showed the potential of data from large-scale forest inventories for evaluating model performance. Since this type of data is typically based on a large number of samples across environmental gradients, they are particularly suited for investigations at the general level of the dominant species based on stand basal area. However, the surprisingly small variability of juvenile trees (trees
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