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Depth of water table prior to ditch network maintenance is a key factor for tree growth response

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In boreal-drained peatland forests, tree growth is retarded by the gradual deterioration of drainage ditch networks. In order to avoid the development of suboptimal growth conditions, ditch network maintenance (DNM) operations (ditch cleaning and/or complementary ditching) are annually conducted on an area of about 70,000 ha in Finland. The previous studies indicate that the depth of the water table prior to DNM may influence the magnitude of the growth response to DNM. Tree growth does not necessarily increase after DNM at sites with large stand volume and subsequent low water levels due to tree stand evapotranspiration. We investigated how the pre-treatment water table depth (pre-WTD) in late summer relates to the growth of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) stands after the DNM operation in 12 field experiments. The increase in mean annual volume growth caused by DNM was negatively related to the pre-WTD, with the highest growth response in stands where the pre-WTD was less than 25–30 cm. DNM did not clearly increase stand growth in sites where the pre-WTD was more than 35–40 cm below the soil surface. There was a high variation in growth response to DNM between the water levels from 20 to 35 cm below the soil surface, indicating that factors other than water table depth are also needed as decision criteria for assessing the appropriate timing of ditch network maintenance.
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Keywords: Scots pine stand; boreal forest; ditch network maintenance; drainage; peatland

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Finnish Forest Research Institute,Southern Finland Regional Unit, Vantaa, Finland 2: Finnish Forest Research Institute,Northern Finland Regional Unit, Rovaniemi, Finland 3: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,Aalto University School of Engineering, Aalto, Finland

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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