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Open AccessArticle

Implications of Reduced Stand Density on Tree Growth and Drought Susceptibility: A Study of Three Species under Varying Climate

1
Chair of Forest Growth and Yield Science, TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Hans-Carl-v.-Carlowitz-Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
2
Forests and Woodland Ecosystems Science Program, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Fort Valley Experimental Forest, 2500 S. Pine Knoll Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA
3
Department of Forest Dynamics and Management, Forest Research Center, INIA, Ctra. A Coruña Km 7.5, 28040 Madrid, Spain
4
Sustainable Forest Research Institute, University of Valladolid and INIA, Avda. Madrid 44, 34004 Palencia, Spain
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2020, 11(6), 627; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11060627
Received: 4 May 2020 / Revised: 25 May 2020 / Accepted: 28 May 2020 / Published: 2 June 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Forest Ecology and Management)
A higher frequency of increasingly severe droughts highlights the need for short-term measures to adapt existing forests to climate change. The maintenance of reduced stand densities has been proposed as a promising silvicultural tool for mitigating drought stress. However, the relationship between stand density and tree drought susceptibility remains poorly understood, especially across ecological gradients. Here, we analysed the effect of reduced stand density on tree growth and growth sensitivity, as well as on short-term drought responses (resistance, recovery, and resilience) of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), sessile oak (Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex C. Lawson). Tree ring series from 409 trees, growing in stands of varying stand density, were analysed at sites with different water availability. For all species, mean tree growth was significantly higher under low compared with maximum stand density. Mean tree growth sensitivity of Scots pine was significantly higher under low compared with moderate and maximum stand density, while growth sensitivity of ponderosa pine peaked under maximum stand density. Recovery and resilience of Scots pine, as well as recovery of sessile oak and ponderosa pine, decreased with increasing stand density. In contrast, resistance and resilience of ponderosa pine significantly increased with increasing stand density. Higher site water availability was associated with significantly reduced drought response indices of Scots pine and sessile oak in general, except for resistance of oak. In ponderosa pine, higher site water availability significantly lessened recovery. Higher site water availability significantly moderated the positive effect of reduced stand density on drought responses. Stand age had a significantly positive effect on the resistance of Scots pine and a negative effect on recovery of sessile oak. We discuss potential causes for the observed response patterns, derive implications for adaptive forest management, and make recommendations for further research in this field. View Full-Text
Keywords: drought stress; growth sensitivity; Pinus; Quercus; recovery; resilience; resistance; stand density; thinning; water availability drought stress; growth sensitivity; Pinus; Quercus; recovery; resilience; resistance; stand density; thinning; water availability
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Steckel, M.; Moser, W.K.; del Río, M.; Pretzsch, H. Implications of Reduced Stand Density on Tree Growth and Drought Susceptibility: A Study of Three Species under Varying Climate. Forests 2020, 11, 627.

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