Plant and Soil

, Volume 365, Issue 1–2, pp 291–305 | Cite as

Overstorey and juvenile response to thinning and drought in a jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata Donn ex Sm.) forest of southwestern Australia

  • Song Qiu
  • Richard W. Bell
  • Richard J. Hobbs
  • Arthur J. McComb
Regular Article



Forest thinning is expected to affect tree water use and carbon assimilation, but the related influence from climate variability is little known. Recent forest thinning in the Wungong catchment coincided with a record dry year following the thinning, which provides a rare opportunity to understand the climate influence on the thinning effect.


A field experiment was conducted to examine changes before and after thinning, especially the rainfall, soil moisture, leaf water status, tissue isotope signature (13 C and 15 N) and N concentration of overstorey and understorey juvenile trees of Eucalyptus marginata (Donn ex Sm.).


Despite the post-thinning drought, surface soil was moister and juvenile jarrah plants were less water stressed, attributable to reduced rain interception and transpiration as a result of less canopy cover. The overstorey was under stress but mainly due to drought rather than by thinning. The concentration of N declined in both tree stems and juvenile leaves along with available N in soil, suggesting a soil N limitation. No treatment effects were detected from leaf relative water content and tissue isotope signature (13 C and 15 N).


The drought effects were superimposed over the thinning effects on overstorey growth, with stemwood δ13C being a major indicator of water stress. The water relations and carbon assimilation of understorey juveniles were however dependent more on topsoil moisture, and the wetter soil during the year following thinning enhanced growth activity and hence the depletion of 13 C (more negative δ13C) in juvenile leaves.


Forest thinning Drought Leaf relative water content δ13δ 15 N N limiting 



This work forms a part of the study supported by the Australian Research Council and the Water Corporation of Western Australia under the Linkage Projects scheme (project number LP0774966). We thank Frank Batini, Michael Loh, Richard Boykett and Frank Bailey for providing background information and field support for this study. Jing Jing Huang and Sita Ram Panta contributed to the some field data collection during their postgraduate study.


  1. Abbott B, Dell B, Loneragan O (1989) The jarrah plant. In: Dell B, Havel J, Malajczuk N (eds) The Jarrah Forest: a complex Mediterranean ecosystem. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 41–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anon (1930) Thinning operations in forestry. Nature 130:743Google Scholar
  3. Bari MA, Ruprecht JK (2003) Water yield response to land use change in South-west Western Australia. Department of Environment Salinity and Land Use Impacts Series, Report No. SLUI 31. November 2003. Department of Environment, Western Australia. p 46Google Scholar
  4. Bosch JM, Hewlett JD (1982) A review of catchment experiments to determine the effect of vegetation changes on water yield and evapotranspiration. J Hydrol 55:3–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bréda N, Granier A, Aussenac G (1995) Effects of thinning on soil and tree water relations, transpiration and growth in an oak forest (Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl.). Tree Physiol 15:295–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell-Clause JM (2005) Using gypsum blocks to measure soil moisture in vineyards. Farmnote, Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, No. 03/98. Perth, Australia.Google Scholar
  7. Choi WJ, Chang SX, Allen HL, Kelting DL, Ro HM (2005) Irrigation and fertilization effects on foliar and soil carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in a loblolly pine stand. Forest Ecol Manag 213:90–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Churchward HM, Dimmock GM (1989) The soils and landforms of northern jarrah forest. In: Dell B, Havel J, Malajczuk N (eds) The Jarrah Forest: a complex Mediterranean ecosystem. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 13–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Doley D (1967) Water relations of Eucalyptus marginata Sm. under natural conditions. J Ecol 55:597–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Farquhar GD, Ehleringer JR, Hubick KT (1989) Carbon isotope discrimination and photosynthesis. Annu Rev Plant Physiol Plant Mol Biol 40:503–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grigg AH, Grant CD (2009) Overstorey growth response to thinning, burning and fertiliser in 10–13-year-old rehabilitated Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest after bauxite mining in South-Western Australia [online]. Aust Forestry 72:80–86Google Scholar
  12. Hingston FJ, O’Connell AM, Grove TS (1989) Nutrient cycling in the jarrah forest. In: Dell B, Havel J, Malajczuk N (eds) The Jarrah Forest: a complex Mediterranean ecosystem. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 155–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Horner GJ, Baker PJ, Nally RM, Cunningham SC, Thomson JR, Hamilton F (2010) Forest structure, habitat and carbon benefits from thinning floodplain forests: managing early stand density makes a difference. Forest Ecol Manag 259:286–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Institute of Foresters of Australia (2007) Australia native forests and water. IFA forestry policy statement number 5.1. (accessed on 23 August, 2011)
  15. Kjønaas OJ (1999) In situ efficiency of ion exchange resins in studies of nitrogen transformation. Soil Sci Soc Amer J 63:399–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lambers H, Chapin F, Pons TL (2008) Plant physiological ecology. Springer, New York, p 604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Legates DR, Mahmood R, Levia DF, DeLiberty TL, Quiring SM, Houser C, Nelson FE (2011) Soil moisture: a central and unifying theme in physical geography. Prog Phys Geog 35:65–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Macfarlane C, Silberstein R (2009) Final Report to the Water Corporation of Western Australia on Water Use by Regrowth and Old-growth Jarrah Forest at Dwellingup, Western Australia. Water for a Healthy Country Flagship Report series ISSN: 1835-095X. CSIRO 2009, Perth, Australia. p 26Google Scholar
  19. Macfarlane C, Adams MA, White DA (2004) Productivity, carbon isotope discrimination and leaf traits of trees of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. in relation to water availability. Plant Cell Environ 27:1515–1524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. MacKenzie MD, DeLuca TH (2006) Charcoal and shrubs modify soil processes in ponderosa pine forests of western Montana. Plant Soil 287:257–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mattiske EM, Havel JJ (1998) Vegetation Complexes of the South-west Forest Region of Western Australia. Maps and report prepared as part of the Regional Forest Agreement, Western Australia for the Department of Conservation and Land Management and Environment Australia, Perth, Australia.Google Scholar
  22. Ogaya R, Peñuelas J (2008) Changes in leaf δ13C and δ15N for three Mediterranean tree species in relation to soil water availability. Acta Oecol 34:331–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Panta, SR (2012) Effects of thinning on forest structure and composition in the Wungong Catchment, Western Australia. M.Phil. thesis Murdoch University, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  24. Paul D, Skrzypek G, Forizs I (2007) Normalization of measured stable isotope composition to isotope reference scale – a review. Rapid Commun Mass Sp 21:3006–3014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peet GB, McCormick J (1971) Short-term responses from controlled burning and intense fires in the forests of Western Australia. Bulletin no. 79. Western Australia Forests Department, Perth, Australia, p 23Google Scholar
  26. Peri PL, Ladd B, Pepper DA, Bonser SP, Laffan SW, Amelung W (2011) Carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope composition in plant and soil in Southern Patagonia’s native forests. Glob Change Biol. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02494.x
  27. Qiu S, Bell RW, Hobbs RJ, McComb AJ (2011) Estimating nutrient budgets for prescribed thinning in a regrowth eucalyptus forest in south-west Australia. Forestry 85:51–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Robinson DA, Campbell CS, Hopmans JW, Hornbuckle BK, Jones SB, Knight R (2008) Soil moisture measurement for ecological and hydrological watershed-scale observatories: a review. Vadose Zone J 7:358–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ruprecht JK, Schofield NJ, Crombie DS, Vertessy RA, Stoneman GL (1991) Early hydrological response to intense forest thinning in southwestern Australia. J Hydrol 127:261–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Searle PL (1984) The Berthelot or indophenol reaction and its use in the analytical chemistry of nitrogen—a review. Analyst 109:549–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Silberstein R (2010) Water yield and vegetation dynamics under changing climate and management –results and projections from the Water Foundation project 041 05.
  32. Simonin K, Kolb TE, Montes-Helu M, Koch GW (2007) The influence of thinning on components of stand water balance in a ponderosa pine forest stand during and after extreme drought. Agr Forest Meteorol 143:266–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Soil Survey Staff (2003) Keys to soil taxonomy. 9th edn. USDA-NRCS. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  34. Stoneman G (1993) Hydrological response to thinning a small jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest catchment. J Hydrol 150:393–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stoneman G, Whitford K (1995) Analysis of the concept of growth efficiency in Eucalyptus marginata (jarrah) in relation to thinning, fertilising and tree characteristics. Forest Ecol Manag 76:47–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tacey WH, Glossop BL (1980) Assessment of topsoil handling techniques for rehabilitation of sites mined for bauxite within the Jarrah forest of western Australia. J Appl Ecol 17:195–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vervaet H, Boeckx P, Unamuno V, van Cleemput O, Hofman G (2002) Can δ 15N profiles in forest soils predict net N mineralization rates? Biol Fertil Soils 36:143–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Warren CR, Adams MA (2006) Internal conductance does not scale with photosynthetic capacity: implications for carbon isotope discrimination and the economics of water and nitrogen use in photosynthesis. Plant Cell Environ 29:192–201PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Warren CR, McGrath JF, Adams MA (2001) Water availability and carbon isotope discrimination in conifers. Oecologia 127:476–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Warren CR, Bleby T, Adams MA (2007) Changes in gas exchange versus leaf solutes as a means to cope with summer drought in Eucalyptus marginata. Oecologia 154:1–10PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Water Corporation (2005) Wungong catchment environment and water management project. Water Corporation, Perth, p 134Google Scholar
  42. Weng SH, Kuo SR, Guan BT, Chang TY, Hsu HW, Shen CW (2007) Microclimatic responses to different thinning intensities in a Japanese cedar plantation of northern Taiwan. Forest Ecol Manag 241:91–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Whitehead D, Beadle CL (2004) Physiological regulation of productivity and water use in Eucalyptus: a review. Forest Ecol Manag 193:113–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Song Qiu
    • 1
  • Richard W. Bell
    • 1
  • Richard J. Hobbs
    • 2
  • Arthur J. McComb
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Environmental ScienceMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.School of Plant BiologyThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

Personalised recommendations