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Stand structure of the emergent conifer Agathis ovata in forest and maquis, Province Sud, New Caledonia

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Abstract. The size structure of the endemic New Caledonian conifer Agathis ovata is reported for sample stands in forest and maquis from three areas on ultramafic substrates in the south of the main island (Grand Terre). In closed forest Agathis ovata is typically represented by a low density of emergent adult trees with only limited evidence of seedling recruitment. In maquis, Agathis ovata is represented by individuals of all sizes, with seedlings and saplings abundant in most sample stands. Preliminary evidence from tree‐ring studies indicates that rings may be annual. Estimated diameter growth rate is about 2 mm y−1 for trees ≥ 10 cm d.b.h., and ring counts suggest tree ages of up to 400 years in maquis and 500 years in forest.

Agathis ovata, and three other members of the Araucariaceae found in New Caledonia (Araucaria laubenfelsii, A. montana and A. rulei), are the only tree species which regularly occur scattered in maquis in this way, creating an unusual structural assemblage. No angiosperm tree species show this behaviour. The circumstances under which the Agathis ovata– maquis stands arise and are maintained are the subject of further investigation. Preliminary evidence for tree ages indicates that these stands predate European arrival in New Caledonia and so are not the result of recent increases in the frequency and intensity of human disturbances. The presence of fire scars on many individuals, and location of most stands on slopes and spurs with outcropping laterite (cuirasse), suggests that this assemblage may owe its existence to the interplay of fire regime, topography and rockiness, and a resistance to fire in Agathis ovata which increases with plant size and age.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia 3052.

Publication date: July 1, 1998

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