Density reduction in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) stands to increase tree C assimilation: an approach with the dual δ13C and δ18O isotope signatures in needles

  • Arun K. Bose
  • Andrew S. Nelson
  • Michael Kane
  • Andreas Rigling
Original Paper


Key message

In the context of increasing droughts related to climate change, our results showed that heavy thinning and/or very low initial planting density can increase CO 2 assimilation rate in needles, and may be used as a short-term management strategy for loblolly pine plantation across sites prone to drought.


The dry summer of 2013 provided us an opportunity to understand the CO2 assimilation rate and stomatal conductance after density manipulation treatments using the dual isotope (δ13C and δ18O) signatures in needles of planted loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) trees in the southeastern USA.


To our knowledge, this is the first study using the dual isotope approach to examine the physiological response of loblolly pine trees, one of the most widely planted tree species in the world, to stand density manipulation treatments (i.e., thinning intensity and planting density).


In 2001–2003, trees were planted with five different planting densities, 494, 1111, 1729, 2346, and 2964 trees ha−1 at three sites. In 2009–2011, two thinning treatments (none and moderate thinning) were applied in the 1111 trees ha−1 plots, whereas three treatments (none, light and heavy thinning) were applied in the 1729 trees ha−1 plots. Response variables (specific leaf area (SLA), foliar N, δ13C and δ18O) were measured in February 2014.


SLA was lower, while δ18O was higher in the 494 trees ha−1 plots than the 2964 trees ha−1 plots without thinning. In plots planted to 1729 trees ha−1 SLA was lower, while δ13C and δ18O were higher following heavy thinning than in the unthinned control. These responses plus increased crown length, DBH, and height following heavy thinning may reflect an increased tree-level CO2 assimilation rate.


Our results showed that heavy thinning and/or very low initial planting density can be used as a short-term management strategy for loblolly pine plantation across sites prone to drought.


Photosynthesis Transpiration Thinning intensity Planting densities Pinus taedaStable isotopes 



We are greatly appreciative to the editor and the two reviewers of the Annals of Forest Science for numerous helpful suggestions. The first author acknowledges the funding received through the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Forestry Systems and the University of Maine. We thank the Plantation Management Research Cooperative at the University of Georgia for treatment implementation and tree measurements. Funding for sample collected and isotope analysis was provided by the University of Arkansas, Monticello to Andrew Nelson. The first author thanks Drs. Matthias Saurer and Marco Lehmann of WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research for sharing a discussion on interpretation of the stable isotope approach.

Compliance with ethical standards

Data accessibility

A data file named ‘Carbon and oxygen isotope data in needles of loblolly pine’ and an instruction file are available from figshare Digital Data Repository ( (Bose et al. 2017).


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arun K. Bose
    • 1
    • 4
  • Andrew S. Nelson
    • 2
  • Michael Kane
    • 3
  • Andreas Rigling
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire SciencesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  3. 3.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.WSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape ResearchBirmensdorfSwitzerland

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