Successful European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) regeneration is both of great ecological and economical importance in European forest ecosystems and severely threatened by climate change impacts. To increase our knowledge of beech regeneration dynamics under climate change and the potential for controlling it through forest management, we studied interactive effects of solar radiation (PHAR), water and nutrient availability on the height growth of artificially (AR) and naturally regenerated (NR) beech seedlings. The study was conducted in the framework of experimental canopy gaps, under the influence of the 2018/19 drought and heatwaves. We measured PHAR by means of hemispherical photography, approximated water availability based on the inverse of modeled fine root density distributions of overstorey beech (BGRB) and oak (BGRO) and approximated nutrient availability based on soil fertility (SF), derived from forest site mapping. Results indicate that seedling resource availability and resulting growth responses increase with canopy gap size and vary among locations within the gap. Multiplicative non-linear mixed models suggest that AR and NR relative height growth (RI) was best explained by interactive effects of PHAR, BGRB, BGRO and SF, which reflect complementary resource use patterns of beech seedlings. At optimal resource availability, AR reached a potential RI of 174%, which is about 20% higher compared to NR. While the low light growth responses of AR and NR both reflect saturation at 5 to 15% PHAR, depending on individual size and the availability of the remaining resources, NR showed a higher RI than AR at intermediate and high PHAR levels in cases of limited BGR and SF. In contrast to AR, NR growth was affected to a lesser extent by SF and BGRB and not significantly affected by BGRO. These results suggest that overstorey oaks have a lower effect on water availability of beech seedlings than overstorey beeches. Additionally, NR showed higher tolerance to water and nutrient limitation than AR, probably due to better root system development. In conclusion, site-specific potential for mitigating the effects of climate change on beech regeneration through forest management lies in the adaptation of silvicultural systems, i.e., the creation of canopy gaps larger than 200 m2, thus significantly exceeding the average gap size of the natural disturbance regime, and the choice of the regeneration method.
|Journal||Forest Ecology and Management|
|Publication status||Published - 15 Mar 2023|
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Beech seedling, Complementary resource use, Height growth, Light, Natural and artificial regeneration, Silviculture, Soil fertility, Water