Changes in land use and physiological transitions of a Juniperus thurifera forest: from decline to recovery

Research areas: Year: 2015
Type of Publication: Article Keywords: forest management, forest decline, global change, Juniperus thurifera, land abandonment
Authors: Daniel Montesinos, Javier Fabado
Journal: Canadian Journal of Forest Research Volume: 45
Number: 6 Pages: 764-769
Forest decline is frequently associated with infection; however, infections habitually affect trees that have been previously debilitated by environmental stress. Nevertheless, the causes and physiology of noninfectious forest decline are not well known. Some Juniperus thurifera L. forests presented severe (noninfectious) declines, with defoliations over 50%. The goal of this study was to determine the causes and characterize the physiology of this noninfectious decline, and we hypothesized that it could be related to environmental stress from increasing interspecific competition resulting from land abandonment. We randomly assigned 60 trees to either a control group or one of two competition-release treatments, i.e., vegetation clearing or soil ploughing. We characterized the physiological state of the trees both before treatment application and 14 months after treatment application. The J. thurifera trees that were declining experienced significantly lower soil nutrient and water availability, which resulted in lower leaf nutrient concentrations, lower photosynthetic rates, higher water stress, and arrested growth and reproduction. We confirmed that competition release increased nutrient availability and acquisition, reduced water deficit, improved photosynthetic rates, and abruptly stopped defoliation. Competition plays an increasingly critical role in forest conservation, particularly with the reported increase in the number of species colonizing previously