Designing near-natural planting patterns for plantation forests in China
China has a long tradition of managing planted forests. Different species of Populus, Eucalyptus, Larix, Cunninghamia and Pinus are planted to satisfy the local demand for wood products and provide ecological services at the same time. Evidence of the greater resilience of natural forests provides the motivation to develop asymmetric planting patterns, which is the focus of this study. We present a new method for designing plantation patterns that follow those observed in natural ecosystems and
... to maintain some regularity for operational convenience. Methods: Based on the uniform angle index, we analyzed the spatial structure of six natural forests in different regions of China. The uniform angle index describes the degree of spatial uniformity of the n nearest neighbors of a given reference tree. Accordingly, we identified all possible patterns of a neighborhood group within a regular planting pattern and developed a method to optimize planting point arrangements that contain some randomness as well as a minimum degree of regularity. Results: (1) There are 13 types of structural units in a regular planting, including seven random units, five even units and one cluster unit; (2) Five near-natural arrangements are presented with a minimum proportion of 50% of random units. These five arrangements represent a combination of regularity for operational convenience and asymmetry. Conclusions: The new planting patterns developed in this study are expected to increase the asymmetric competition and resilience of these important ecosystems. Some experimental plantings, based on our findings, have already been established, e.g., in Pinus tabulaeformis plantations in Tianshui, Gansu Province, and in a Populus deltoides plantation in Fangshan near Beijing.