Pine recolonization dynamics in Mediterranean human-disturbed treeline ecotones
Publication date: 1 March 2019
Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 435
Author(s): Alessandro Vitali, Matteo Garbarino, J. Julio Camarero, Francesco Malandra, Elvin Toromani, Velibor Spalevic, Milić Čurović, Carlo Urbinati
Worldwide treelines seem to share a twofold condition: over 50% of them are advancing and 50% appear to be static. In this study we compared the encroachment patterns of four pine species across anthropogenic treelines in Southern Europe. Using a synchronic approach, we studied structure and recent spatio-temporal patterns of pine recruitment at upper treeline ecotones in Albania, Italy, Montenegro and Spain. Within altitudinal transects we mapped and sampled 964 living individuals of Pinus heldreichii, Pinus peuce, Pinus sylvestris and Pinus uncinata growing above the current forest line. We measured their basal diameter, total height, and counted the number of seed cones. We differentiated seedlings (height < 0.5 m) from saplings (0.5 m ≤ height < 2 m) and trees (height ≥ 2 m). From individuals with basal stem diameter >4 cm we extracted one increment core for cambial age determination and tree-ring width measurements. On smaller specimens, we estimated the age by counting annual internodes (terminal bud scars) along the whole stem. We compared the ground cover around each pine, applied point pattern analyses, modelled the probability of seed cone production and estimated the average distance of seed dispersal. The four pine species exhibited heterogeneous density values (87-1552 N° ha−1). The overall averaged means ranged 2–7 cm for basal diameter, 54–106 cm for total height and 9–20 years for cambial age, suggesting a recent encroachment process. None of these structural variables decreased with increasing relative altitude and distribution patterns exhibited a few higher density spots but not cohort spatial structure. Ground cover differed between species and more significantly between size classes. Grass was the most frequent type at all sites except for P. sylvestris where shrubs prevailed (>50%). Further differences appeared when discriminated by height thresholds, with larger share of saplings and trees neighboring shrubs and rocks. Basal area increments increased from 1990 and stabilized in recent years at all species except for P. peuce. Height and basal diameter predicted cones production better than cambial age. P. heldreichii and P. peuce dispersed seeds at longer distances than P. uncinata and P. sylvestris, suggesting different potential for further encroaching. Pine recruitment above the forest lines is quite synchronic at all sites (last 30 years), but in some cases it appeared as a high altitude tree densification process, whereas in others as a starting treeline advance. The use of permanent transects provides a detailed monitoring of tree survival and a more precise prediction of future treeline expansion.
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