Thinning enhances the species-specific radial increment response to drought in Mediterranean pine-oak stands

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ALDEA J., BRAVO, F., BRAVO-OVIEDO, A., RUIZ-PEINADO, R., RODRÍGUEZ, F., RÍO, M. (2017) - Thinning enhances the species-specific radial increment response to drought in Mediterranean pine-oak stands - Agricultural and Forest Meteorology

Radial increment analyses allow us to determine tree responses to weather and tree competition, thus enabling the development of management strategies for adapting forest stands to forecasted climate change scenarios. In this study, the responses of pine-oak mixed stands (Pinus pinaster Ait. and Quercus pyrenaica Willd.) to thinning treatments were assessed at two sites in central Spain with contrasting drought conditions. Inter- and intra-annual radial increments were recorded every two weeks from dendrometer band measurements, using a Latin square design. Each site consisted of a control (unthinned) and two thinning intensities: moderate (25% of pine basal area removed) and heavy (40% of pine basal area removed). Thinning effects were monitored over three years of different weather conditions (2010–2012), with an extreme drought event in 2012. Linear mixed models were fitted to analyze weather and thinning effects on the inter- and intra-annual radial increment rates. Additionally, the sum of two logistic functions was used to estimate cumulative radial increment patterns. Heavy thinning resulted in the greatest annual radial increment for pine, regardless of site and year, even during the 2012 drought, when compared to densely stocked forest stands. The model results indicated that heavy thinning positively affected the intra-annual pattern, increasing inflection point and spring and autumn asymptotes. Thinning also had a slight positive effect on inter- and intra-annual radial increment in oak, although this was not clear during extreme drought in 2012. The radial increment rate was related to weather variables, which reflected light (positive for solar radiation) and water availability dependence (increased with precipitation, but decreased with vapor pressure deficit) for both species. Besides water status, air humidity (positive relation with air temperature and relative humidity) also affected oak. Reducing competition by thinning stimulated radial increment in oak-pine mixed stands, which may provide an adaptive forest management tool for reducing tree vulnerability to extreme droughts, which are linked to climate change.

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