With increasing temperatures and projected changes in moisture availability for the Mediterranean climate of northern California, empirical evidence of the long-term responses of forests to climate are important for managing these ecosystems. We can assess forest treatment strategies to improve climate resilience by examining past responses to climate for both managed and unmanaged plantations. Using an experimental, long-term density and shrub removal study of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa
Lawson & C. Lawson) on a poor-quality site with low water-holding capacity and high runoff of the North Coastal mountain range in California, we examined the relationships between radial growth and climate for these trees over a common interval of 1977–2011. Resistance indices, defined here as the ratio between current year radial growth and the performance of the four previous years, were correlated to climatic variables during the same years. We found that all treatments’ radial growth benefited from seasonal spring moisture availability during the current growing year. Conversely, high spring and early summer temperatures had detrimental effects on growth. High-density treatments with manzanita understories were sensitive to summer droughts while lower densities and treatments with full shrub removal were not. The explanatory power of the climate regression models was generally more consistent for the same shrub treatments across the four different densities. The resistance indices for the lower density and complete shrub removal treatment groups were less dependent on previous years’ climatic conditions. We conclude that, for ponderosa pine plantations with significant manzanita encroachment, understory removal and heavy thinning treatments increase subsequent growth for remaining trees and decrease sensitivity to climate.
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