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Intra- and interspecific competition differently influence growth and stem quality of young oaks (Quercus robur L. and Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Liebl.)

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Cluster planting has become a conventional establishment method for oaks in Central Europe, where the spacing of seedlings within clusters varies between ‘nests’ (0.2 × 0.2 m) and ‘groups’ (1 × 1 m). Although the space between clusters is expected to fill with voluntary regeneration, its competitive effect on oak growth and quality had not been studied yet.


The aim of the study was to analyse the effects of inter- and intraspecific interactions on growth and quality of oaks grown in cluster plantings by quantifying the influence of neighbouring trees. In addition, we analysed whether the spatial position of oaks within groups (inner section or periphery) influenced their quality development.


Using Hegyi’s competition index, the influence of competition from intra- and interspecific trees from early, mid- and late-successional species, on diameter, height, slenderness and quality (length of branch-free bole) of 10- to 26-year-old oaks grown in cluster planting stands was quantified at seven sites in Baden-Württemberg and Hessen, Germany.


In general, mid- and late-successional trees exerted a stronger competitive influence on growth of target oaks in clusters than the conspecific oaks and pioneer tree species. Oak quality development benefited from intraspecific competition, but self-pruning was not further promoted through additional interspecific competition. Within groups, inner oaks had a higher probability of developing into potential future crop trees than outer oaks.


Our study showed that intra- and interspecific competition had different effects on target oak trees and that these effect differed between nest and group plantings. The development of naturally regenerated and planted trainer trees in group plantings should be monitored carefully and if necessary be controlled through thinning or pollarding.

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The author gratefully acknowledges the receipt of a PhD scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We thank the State Forestry Administration of Rheinland-Pfalz, the Georg-Ludwig-Hartig Stiftung, and the Graduate School ‘Environment, Society and Global Change’ of Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg for providing financial support. We are thankful to Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kohnle of the Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg for providing valuable information on cluster planting trials. We thank Dr. David Forrester for providing comments and suggestions on a previous version of the manuscript and English corrections. We are also thankful to Ms. Charlotte Krebs who helped with field data collection and database preparation.

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Correspondence to Somidh Saha.

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Handling Editor: Jean-Michel Leban

Contribution of the co-authors

Somidh Saha and Jürgen Bauhus jointly developed the research concept and experimental design. Jürgen Bauhus provided doctoral supervision to the first author. Somidh Saha carried out the field work and did all statistical analysis. Somidh Saha, Christian Kuehne and Jürgen Bauhus wrote the manuscript. Christian Kuehne also participated in field data collection. Parts of the results in relation to the first hypothesis were presented as a poster at the German Forestry conference: ‘Forest-Climate-Energy’ (Forstwissenschaftlichen Tagung, ‘Wald-Umwelt-Energie’), at Weihenstephan, Germany, from 19 to 22 September 2012. However, only the abstract (ca. 200 words) was published in the conference proceeding.

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Saha, S., Kuehne, C. & Bauhus, J. Intra- and interspecific competition differently influence growth and stem quality of young oaks (Quercus robur L. and Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Liebl.). Annals of Forest Science 71, 381–393 (2014).

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