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Viewing forests from below: fine root mass declines relative to leaf area in aging lodgepole pine stands

Schoonmaker, A. S., V. J. Lieffers and S. M. Landhäusser . 2016. Springer Berlin Heidelberg


In the continued quest to explain the decline in productivity and vigor with aging forest stands, the most poorly studied area relates to root system change in time. This paper measures the wood production, root and leaf area (and mass) in a chronosequence of fire-origin lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Loudon) stands consisting of four age classes (12, 21, 53, and >=100 years), each replicated ~ five times. Wood productivity was greatest in the 53-year-old stands and then declined in the >=100-year-old stands. Growth efficiency, the quantity of wood produced per unit leaf mass, steadily declined with age. Leaf mass and fine root mass plateaued between the 53- and >=100-year-old stands, but leaf area index actually increased in the older stands. An increase in the leaf area index:fine root area ratio supports the idea that older stand are potentially limited by soil resources. Other factors contributing to slower growth in older stands might be lower soil temperatures and increased self-shading due to the clumped nature of crowns. Collectively, the proportionally greater reduction in fine roots in older stands might be the variable that predisposes these forests to be at a potentially greater risk of stress-induced mortality.

Key Words

Chronosequence, Forest productivity, Forest decline, Root system development, Leaf area inde