Species mixture effects and climate influence growth, recruitment and mortality in Interior West USA Populus tremuloides ‐conifer communities
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Journal of Ecology. 109(8): 2934-2949
1. Tree-species mixture effects (e.g. complementarity and facilitation) have been found to increase individual-tree productivity, lessen mortality and improve recruitment in forests worldwide. By promoting more efficient and complete resource use, mixture effects may also lessen individual-tree-level water stress, thus improving drought resistance. We investigated the influence of mixture effects on tree productivity, mortality and recruitment across broad compositional and moisture gradients in high-elevation Interior West US mixed-conifer communities, where Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen) is the major contributor to functional diversity. Our goal was to provide a more complete scientific foundation for managing these drought-prone, fire-excluded systems under an uncertain climate.
2. We used landscape-scale national forest inventory data to examine mixture effects on P. tremuloides and the major associated conifer species, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Pinus contorta, Abies lasiocarpa and Picea engelmannii. Using generalized linear mixed modelling, we isolated the influences of P. tremuloides relative density and climate on tree-level (stems ≥ 12.7 cm DBH) growth, mortality and stand-level recruitment (presence/absence of new trees). Cold-season precipitation (PPT) and warm-season vapour pressure deficit (VPD) served to represent soil moisture supply and demand, respectively. Populus tremuloides growth declined as interspecific density increased. In contrast, Pinus contorta and A. lasiocarpa growth increased with P. tremuloides density. For all species except A. lasiocarpa and P. menziesii, growth increased under higher PPT and VPD.
3. Populus tremuloides mortality increased under high VPD but not with interspecific relative density. We found limited evidence that A. lasiocarpa mortality decreased as P. tremuloides density increased. Populus tremuloides recruitment declined steeply above 25% interspecific relative density. We found a decline in conifer recruitment odds as P. tremuloides density increased, ranging from strong in P. contorta to insubstantial in P. engelmannii.
4. Synthesis. Our findings have implications for sustaining mixed-conifer communities impacted by climate change and historical fire exclusion. Mixtures of P. tremuloides and conifers may improve conifer growth while adversely impacting P. tremuloides growth relative to pure stands. Higher conifer productivity combined with lower P. tremuloides recruitment at high conifer relative density may accelerate succession.
KeywordsAbies lasiocarpa; drought stress; forest dynamics; Picea engelmannii; Pinus contorta; plant– climate interactions; Pseudotsuga menziesii; Rocky Mountain mixed-conifer
Looney, Christopher E.; Previant, Wilfred J.; Bradford, John B.; Nagel, Linda M. 2021. Species mixture effects and climate influence growth, recruitment and mortality in Interior West USA Populus tremuloides ‐conifer communities. Journal of Ecology. 109(8): 2934-2949. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13709.