Sapling growth and crown expansion in canopy gaps of Nothofagus pumilio (lenga) forests in Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina.

P. M. López Bernal, G. E. Defossé, C.P. Quinteros, J.O. Bava


In the province of Chubut in Patagonia, Argentina, Nothofagus pumilio forests (locally known as lenga), are managed through selective cuts, which imply the opening of canopy gaps. This management scheme is carried out without taking into consideration the sapling requirements changes through neither a cutting cycle nor the precipitation gradient in which these forests thrive. To analyze these changes, we inferred the facilitation-competition balance between the canopy and regeneration studying the effects of precipitation levels, gap size and gap age on saplings growth in height on 45 canopy gaps artificially created between 1960 and 1993. Results shown that during the first 20 years since the gap opening, the regeneration growth is determined by light availability in mesic sites and by water availability in dry sites. However, the difference due to the precipitation levels gradually decreases over time. Moreover, in the period between 20 and 35 years after gap opening, in both mesic and xeric sites, light is the limiting factor to growth. This means that in xeric sites, saplings shift from a water-dependent to a light-dependent growth. The average closing rate of gaps due to lateral growth of trees bordering the gap is high enough so that within the proposed gap size range, the gap healing can occur before regeneration reaches the upper stratum. Consequently, in mesic sites the gap opening can be done by a single operation that generates gaps with diameters of approximately twice the average height of the canopy (D/H). While in xeric environments, lenga seedling establishment and initial growth require the cover of small gaps, but advanced regeneration requires bigger gaps to reach the canopy. For this reason, gaps should be opened in two stages: the first gaps should be opened with a D/H between 0.8 and 1, and after a cutting cycle of 35 years, these openings should be enlarged to a D/H between 1.5 and 2. The close relationship is maintained between the new cohort and the upper strata require special considerations regarding the evolution of the balance between positive and negative interactions during development. Our work highlights the need to adjust management practices to these spatial and temporal variations so as to achieve an optimal growth along the entire production cycle.

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DOI: 10.5424/fs/2012213-02538