, Volume 150, Issue 4, pp 529–544 | Cite as

Tree height and age-related decline in growth in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.)

  • Jordi Martínez-VilaltaEmail author
  • Dirk Vanderklein
  • Maurizio Mencuccini


Growth and seasonal water use was measured amongst trees growing in an old growth Scots pine forest in the Scottish Highlands. Three sites which differed in their recent management history and contained old and naturally regenerated young trees growing together were monitored in the field. Our results showed a clear decrease in growth efficiency with age, from values of around 0.25 kg m−2 leaves year−1 in approximately 25-year-old trees to less than 0.1 kg m−2 leaves year−1 in trees over 200 years old. When the old trees in one of the field sites were released from competition by thinning, their growth efficiency reverted to that of coexisting young trees, indicating that the decline in growth was reversible. This is consistent with the results of a parallel study showing that cambial age had no effect on the physiology or growth of grafted seedlings originating from the same population studied here (Mencuccini et al. 2005). Our detailed study of tree water use in the field showed an overall decrease in whole-tree hydraulic conductance and stomatal canopy conductance with tree height in the unthinned stands, in agreement with the hydraulic limitation hypothesis. However, the effect of this reduction in hydraulic efficiency on growth was comparatively small, and old trees also showed consistently lower nitrogen concentrations in needles, suggesting that hydraulic and nutritional factors combined to produce the decline in growth efficiency with age observed in the studied populations.


Ageing Growth efficiency Hydraulic limitation hypothesis Nitrogen Water relations 



We would like to thank Johanna Pulli, Evi Korakaki, Nick Weir, Chris Kettle, Dr. Rosa Maria Roman Cuesta, Hazandy A. Hamid, Georgios Xenakis, Manuel E. Lucas Borja, Craig Menzie, Hanna M. Stark and Jamie Gardiner for field and lab assistance. Georgios Xenakis provided the soil description. The UK Forestry Commission (Fort Augustus Office) allowed access to the field site and was helpful throughout the study period. Mr. Alexander Grigg kindly allowed us to install our met station in his property. Mike Ryan and several anonymous reviewers substantially improved earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was funded by NERC (UK) competitive grant NER/A/S/2001/01193 to MM.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jordi Martínez-Vilalta
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Dirk Vanderklein
    • 3
  • Maurizio Mencuccini
    • 1
  1. 1.School of GeoSciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.CREAF/Unitat d’EcologiaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Barcelona)Spain
  3. 3.Department of Biology and Molecular BiologyMontclair State UniversityMontclairUSA

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