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Preventing crown collisions increases the crown cover and leaf area of maturing lodgepole pine

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Crown collisions induced by tree sway are hypothesized to reduce crown closure and leaf area in maturing cold temperate forests. These declines are thought to lead to the decline in productivity when a stand ages.

We tethered groups of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. Ex Loud. Var. latifolia Engelm.) trees in a web pattern at 10┬ám height, in four 15‐m tall stands in western Alberta, Canada, to determine whether preventing crown collisions would increase crown cover and leaf area.

The stands all had less than 65% crown closure at the beginning of study. Photographs of the canopy were taken in each control and webbed plot in 1998 and at the same point in 2004. Six years after webbing, crown cover had increased by 14.4%, compared to a 2.1% increase for the control plots.

Webbing also resulted in significant increases in mean branch length, leaf area per branch and foliage density of individual branches from top and middle sections of the crown. Polishing of branches, caused by chronic contact with adjacent trees, was three times as common on control trees compared to webbed trees. The mean leaf area per tree was larger for the webbed trees.

Crowns of webbed trees were more symmetrical than those of control trees. Trees from webbed plots, however, had a decline in leaf area density. The branches of control trees were typically curved upward with twigs pointed inward, making the crowns more compact compared to the outwardly expanding crowns of trees from the webbed plots.

The fact that crowns expanded laterally after webbing, despite little change in light regime, provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that loss of crown closure in maturing stands is caused by a lack of light.

The study indicates that the decline in crown closure and leaf area in maturing and tall stands is at least partly related to wind‐induced sway of trees abrading the edges of crowns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2H1, 2: Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering, University of Connecticut, 1376 Storrs Road, Storrs, CT 06269, USA

Publication date: 01 May 2006

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