Transforming even-aged coniferous stands to multi-aged stands:An opportunity to increase tree species diversity? Forestry, 93(5), 616-629
Abstract : Transforming even-aged conifer stands into multi-aged ones is attracting growing interest in Europe. However, applying this silvicultural treatment, maintaining a continuous cover and relying on natural regeneration, requires a deep understanding of the factors driving interspecific competition in the understory. In particular, knowledge of species-specific response to different light conditions is needed to plan silvicultural treatments and forecast long-term stand composition. In this context, we assessed regeneration (±10–400 cm in height) and light conditions (±1–40% of transmittance) in nine coniferous stands with ranging stand age (±20–120 years) and species composition (Norway spruce, Douglas fir, larch, silver fir and western hemlock) in Belgium. We then modelled interspecific differences in regeneration height growth to forecast the outcome of interspecific competition in different light conditions. Controlling understory light seems an efficient way to control the interspecific competition, but with some limits, and taking into account sapling size. Maintaining low light conditions (transmittance < 15%) probably reduces interspecific competition as it allows small saplings (height < 100 cm) of most species to grow at a comparable rates. Maintaining higher light conditions might allow a few species to rapidly overgrow the others. Species ranking in height growth changed across the studied light range only between spruce and larch, suggesting that the competition between these two species can be driven through the control of understory light. On the other hand, controlling canopy openness was found to be insufficient, for example, to promote an advanced regeneration (height ≥ 200 cm) of fir over advanced regeneration of spruce, to promote any species over western hemlock or to promote Douglas fir. Western hemlock, a very shade-tolerant species, was found to grow three times faster than the other species in all the observed conditions (PACL = 5–20%). Douglas fir saplings showed weak growth and marked defoliation, which we hypothetically relate to the recent outbreak of Contarinia pseudotsugae in Western Europe.