Sapling growth and crown expansion in canopy gaps of Nothofagus pumilio (lenga) forests in Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina
In the province of Chubut in Patagonia, Argentina, Nothofagus pumilio forests (locally known as lenga), are managed through selective cuts, which imply the opening of canopy gaps. This management scheme is carried out without taking into consideration the changes of sapling requirements through either a cutting cycle or the precipitation gradient in which these forests thrive. To analyze these changes, we inferred the facilitation-competition balance between the canopy and regeneration,
... the effects of precipitation levels, gap size and gap age on saplings growth in height on 45 canopy gaps artificially created between 1960 and 1993. Results showed that during the first 20 years since gap opening, growth of regeneration is determined by light availability in mesic sites and by water availability in xeric sites. However, differences due to precipitation levels gradually decrease over time. Moreover, in the period between 20 and 35 years after gap opening, in both mesic and xeric sites, growth is limited by light availability. This indicates that in xeric sites, sapling growth requirements shift from a water-dependent situation to a light-dependent situation. The average closing rate of gaps due to lateral growth of bordering trees is high enough so that within the proposed gap size range, gap healing can occur before regeneration reaches the upper stratum. Consequently, in mesic sites gap opening can be done by a single operation that generates gaps with diameters of approximately twice the average height of the canopy (D/H). While in xeric environments, lenga seedling establishment and initial growth require the cover of small gaps, but advanced regeneration requires bigger gaps to reach the canopy. For this reason, gaps should be opened in two stages: the first gaps should be opened with a D/H between 0.8 and 1, and after a cutting cycle of 35 years, these openings should be enlarged to a D/H between 1.5 and 2. The close relationship maintained between the new cohort and the upper strata require special considerations regarding the evolution of the balance between positive and negative interactions during development. Our work highlights the need to adjust management practices to these spatial and temporal variations to achieve an optimal growth along the entire production cycle.