Managing stand density to enhance the adaptability of Scots pine stands to climate change: A modelling approach

Ameztegui A., Cabon A., De Cáceres M., Coll L. (2017) Managing stand density to enhance the adaptability of Scots pine stands to climate change: A modelling approach. Ecological Modelling. 356: 141-150.
Doi: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2017.04.006


In the Mediterranean region most climatic forecasts predict longer and more intense drought periods that can affect tree growth and mortality over broad geographic regions. One of the silvicultural treatments that has gained currency to lessen the impacts of climatic change is the reduction of stand density by thinning. However, we lack information on how the response of forest stands to different thinning treatments will be affected by climate change, and on the post-thinning temporal dynamics of water balance, specifically blue and green water. We adopted a modelling approach to explore the long-term effects of different thinning intensities on forest dynamics and water balance under climate change scenarios, coupling an individual-based model of forest dynamics (SORTIE-ND) with a mechanistic model of soil moisture dynamics and plant drought stress. We used as a case study three Scots pine plots across a gradient of climatic conditions, and we assessed the effect of site, three climatic scenarios and eight thinning intensities on tree growth, stand productivity, tree drought stress and blue water. The best thinning intensity in terms of stand productivity was obtained when between 20 and 40% of the basal area was removed, whereas the final stand stock rapidly decreased at higher thinning intensities. Moreover, the decrease in final basal area occurred at lower thinning intensities the drier the site conditions. Moderate and heavy thinnings (>30%) doubled basal area increment (BAI) of the following years in all the plots, although the effect vanished after 30–40 years, independently of the site and climate scenario. As expected, thinning was simulated to have an overall positive effect on the blue water yield and tree water status, which increased and also tended to last longer for higher thinning intensities. However, the magnitude of this effect on tree water status was most dependent on the site and climatic scenario, as drier conditions generally raised stronger and longer lasting reductions in drought stress for a given thinning intensity. Furthermore, our results highlight the existence of a site- and climate-dependent trade-off between the gain in stand productivity and the improvement in tree water status obtained by thinning, particularly for moderate or heavy thinning intensities. Our simulations suggest that thinning is a useful management tool to mitigate climate change but strongly argue against the application of general recipes across sites and appeals for carefully taking into consideration local climatic trajectories for management planning. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.

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