Influence of early re-spacing on Sitka spruce branch structure

Abstract

Context

The frequency, size, and insertion angle of primary branches are important determinants of wood quality and can be significantly influenced by silvicultural activities.

Aims

This study quantified the long-term influence of early re-spacing on the branching characteristics of mature Sitka spruce [Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr.] trees growing in Northern Ireland, UK. The primary aim was to investigate whether any residual effect of stand density on branch attributes remained once the effect of changes in tree size variables had been considered, while a secondary objective was to test the performance of existing Sitka spruce branch models using the current dataset.

Methods

Re-spacing treatments had corresponding stand densities of 2,858, 1,452, 725, 477, and 320 stems ha−1. Twenty-four trees were sampled when the stand was 57 years old and branch frequency, size, and insertion angle were recorded for model development.

Results

Maximum branch diameter, insertion angle, and branch frequency were significantly influenced by re-spacing, while no effect was found for relative branch diameter distribution. Residual re-spacing effects were most noticeable on branch size, with only small differences between treatments for branch frequency and insertion angle. Existing models performed well despite the wider range of stand densities examined in the present study.

Conclusion

The results indicate that early re-spacing from 1.9 m2 to wider than 2.6 m2 will result in branch attributes that are detrimental to Sitka spruce sawn timber quality.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Baronscourt Estate and the Northern Ireland Forest Service for allowing access to the trial. Shaun Mochan helped to manage the field project and Elspeth Macdonald, Paul McLean, David Swinson, Floran Pierre, and staff from the Agricultural Food and Bioscience Institute assisted with the field sampling. Drs. Thomas Connolly and Helen McKay provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and we also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. The work was funded by the Forestry Commission Corporate and Forestry Services and by a Strategic Research and Development Grant from the Scottish Funding Council.

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Correspondence to David Auty.

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Handling Editor: Jean-Michel Leban

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Auty, D., Weiskittel, A.R., Achim, A. et al. Influence of early re-spacing on Sitka spruce branch structure. Annals of Forest Science 69, 93–104 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13595-011-0141-8

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Keywords

  • Picea sitchensis
  • Wood quality
  • Early re-spacing
  • Maximum branch size
  • Number of branches
  • Branch angle
  • Relative branch size