Natural regeneration in cork oak forests affected by decline

seedlingIn the last decades widespread tree decline and mortality has been documented in forests worldwide. Trajectories of forest recovery and the probability of occurrence of permanent vegetation shifts are to a large extent determined by post-mortality regeneration dynamics.

A research team in the IRNAS, CSIC has studied the potential long term effects of cork oak (Quercus suber) decline on forest composition at the Alcornocales Natural Park (South Spain). Using a spatially-explicit neighborhood approach the team evaluated the spatial patterns of natural regeneration of the woody plant community in mixed Mediterranean forests affected by the decline of their dominant tree species, Quercus suber. Models predicted the abundance, survival and richness of the seedling and sapling bank as a function of the distribution and health status of the tree and shrub community.

Quercus suber decline had detectable effects on seedlings and saplings of coexistent woody species from very different functional groups (trees, shrubs and lianas). The sign and magnitude of these effects varied substantially among coexistent species, which could imply shifts in the species ranking of seedling and sapling abundance, affecting successional trajectories and potentially leading to vegetation shifts.

Most of these changes pointed towards a loss of dominance of Q. suber, therefore management strategies are urgently needed in order to attenuate adult mortality or promote its regeneration, counteracting the negative effects of global change drivers (exotic pathogens, climate change) on these valuable forests.

The study has been published in the journal Ecosystems (on line since 13 October 2016).

Ibáñez, B., Gómez-Aparicio, L., Ávila, J.M., Pérez-Ramos, I.M., Marañón, T. (2016). Effects of Quercus suber decline on woody plant regeneration: potential implications for successional dynamics in Mediterranean forests. Ecosystems. doi:10.1007/s10021-016-0044-5

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