How does neighbourhood tree species composition affect growth characteristics of oak saplings?

Mathias Dillen*, Christian Smit, Kris Verheyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Recent research into positive effects of species diversity has renewed interest into mixing tree species in managed forests. Mixing tree species may have positive effects on productivity and other forest ecosystem functions, while also reducing the impact of extreme weather events or disease - both expected to become worse in the context of global change. In particular saplings are very vulnerable to attacks by pathogens and positive effects at this stage may play a substantial role in shaping later forest dynamics, biomass yields and other ecosystem services. While positive effects of mixing tree species have been found, which species were mixed specifically had large impact on the results and it was often unclear just how these interactions work and what their impact is on tree physiology.

In this study, we investigated the impact of local neighbourhood tree species composition on various above- and belowground growth characteristics of four year old oak (Quercus robur and petraea) saplings in two sites with contrasting abiotic conditions. To evaluate specific mechanisms underlying composition effects, we attempted to link these characteristics to the degree of oak powdery mildew infections and shading cast by local neighbourhood trees, two important factors influencing oak sapling survival and growth. Our results showed no impact of neighbourhood tree species richness, but there were strong effects of species identity on dry biomass production and total leaf area in an abiotically more favorable site. These effects of species presence were related to a strong negative impact of powdery mildew and the degree of shading, both affected differently by different tree species. Effects of composition, mildew and shading were much weaker in the abiotically less favorable site, but we could not disentangle this effect from a difference in oak species. Our results suggest that admixing certain tree species can have considerable positive impact. Mixing of species on an individual basis can be generally recommended, particularly if high impact specialist pathogens such as oak powdery mildew are to be expected. However, differences in juvenile growth rates need to be taken into account, as they may lead to strong adverse effects of shading. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-186
Number of pages10
JournalForest ecology and management
Publication statusPublished - 1-Oct-2017


  • Specific leaf area
  • Biomass
  • Quercus
  • Powdery mildew
  • Shading

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