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The contribution of competition to tree mortality in old-growth coniferous forests

January 1, 2011

Competition is a well-documented contributor to tree mortality in temperate forests, with numerous studies documenting a relationship between tree death and the competitive environment. Models frequently rely on competition as the only non-random mechanism affecting tree mortality. However, for mature forests, competition may cease to be the primary driver of mortality.

We use a large, long-term dataset to study the importance of competition in determining tree mortality in old-growth forests on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada of California, U.S.A. We make use of the comparative spatial configuration of dead and live trees, changes in tree spatial pattern through time, and field assessments of contributors to an individual tree's death to quantify competitive effects.

Competition was apparently a significant contributor to tree mortality in these forests. Trees that died tended to be in more competitive environments than trees that survived, and suppression frequently appeared as a factor contributing to mortality. On the other hand, based on spatial pattern analyses, only three of 14 plots demonstrated compelling evidence that competition was dominating mortality. Most of the rest of the plots fell within the expectation for random mortality, and three fit neither the random nor the competition model. These results suggest that while competition is often playing a significant role in tree mortality processes in these forests it only infrequently governs those processes. In addition, the field assessments indicated a substantial presence of biotic mortality agents in trees that died.

While competition is almost certainly important, demographics in these forests cannot accurately be characterized without a better grasp of other mortality processes. In particular, we likely need a better understanding of biotic agents and their interactions with one another and with competition.

Publication Year 2011
Title The contribution of competition to tree mortality in old-growth coniferous forests
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2010.12.035
Authors A. Das, J. Battles, N.L. Stephenson, Phillip J. van Mantgem
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Forest Ecology and Management
Index ID 70035151
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center