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Determinants of mountain birch growth in situ: effects of temperature and herbivory

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Variation in in situ growth performance of the mountain birch as indicated by the widths of annual rings was analysed and related mainly to temperature and herbivory using ring width series from five heath forest sites in the Lake Torneträsk area, northern Sweden. Climate explained 48–64% of the variation in age-corrected mean ring width series. In general, the effect of current year July followed by June temperature was most important at all sites. A warm May resulted in wider rings due to an earlier budburst. Short-term (inter-annual) responses to increased temperature were in most cases not reflected into long-term responses (decades). A large proportion of the variation in stem mean ring width was due to variation among stems within trees (81%) in these polycormic trees, while variation among sites was marginal (0.4%). Within trees, main stems grew faster and were more responsive to climate variation than subordinate stems. No effect of insect herbivory on ring width was found at low defoliation levels (≤12%). At a defoliation level of ca 84% a one-year reduction in stem growth was observed while the growth reduction (ca 50% reduction in ring width) lasted for 4 yr after ca 93% defoliation. After outbreaks resulting in complete defoliation and some stem mortality, ring widths of surviving stems mainly responded with increased growth. Basal sprouts, emerging just after a severe insect outbreak with a high mortality of old stems, grew faster than sprouts occurring during other periods. It is concluded that the mountain birch is well adapted to recover from Epirrita outbreaks; the ability to produce basal sprouts, that can benefit from an existing root system for fast initial growth, is one important mechanism for this.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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