, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 323-335

Patterns of Forest Decline and Regeneration Across Scots Pine Populations

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Abstract

To predict future changes in forest ecosystems, it is crucial to understand the complex processes involved in decline of tree species populations and to evaluate the implications for potential vegetation shifts. Here, we study patterns of decline (canopy defoliation and mortality of adults) of four Scots pine populations at the southern edge of its distribution and characterized by different combinations of climate dryness and intensity of past management. General linear and structural equation modeling were used to assess how biotic, abiotic, and management components interacted to explain the spatial variability of Scots pine decline across and within populations. Regeneration patterns of Scots pine and co-occurring oak species were analyzed to assess potential vegetation shifts. Decline trends were related to climatic dryness at the regional scale, but, ultimately, within-population forest structure, local site conditions, and past human legacies could be the main underlying drivers of Scots pine decline. Overall, Scots pine regeneration was negatively related to decline both within and between populations, whereas oak species responded to decline idiosyncratically across populations. Taken together, our results suggest that (1) patterns of decline are the result of processes acting at the plot level that modulate forest responses to local environmental stress and (2) decline of adult Scots pine trees seems not to be compensated by self-recruitment so that the future dynamics of these forest ecosystems are uncertain.

Author Contributions

A.V.C conceived and designed the study, performed research, analyzed data and wrote the paper; J.M.V. conceived and designed the study, analyzed data and revised the paper; L.G. performed research and revised the paper; J.R. conceived and designed the study, analyzed data and revised the paper.