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Explaining growth of individual trees: Light interception and efficiency of light use by Eucalyptus at four sites in Brazil


Binkley, Dan; Stape, Jose Luiz; Bauerle, William L.; Ryan, Michael G. 2010. Explaining growth of individual trees: Light interception and efficiency of light use by Eucalyptus at four sites in Brazil. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 1704-1713.

The growth of wood in trees and forests depends on the acquisition of resources (light, water, and nutrients), the efficiency of using resources for photosynthesis, and subsequent partitioning to woody tissues. Patterns of efficiency over time for individual trees, or between trees at one time, result from changes in rates photosynthesis and shifts in the relative partitioning to wood. We measured the production ecology (stem growth, light interception, and light use efficiency) to explain patterns of growth among trees within plots through stand development, and tested three hypotheses: (1) dominant trees have higher light use efficiency than subordinate trees; (2) lower variation in the size distribution of trees within plots allows higher light use efficiency; and (3) uniform stand structure and high light use efficiency reduce the age-related decline in tree growth. The experiment used clonal plantations of Eucalyptus at four locations in eastern Brazil. Irrigation and fertilization treatments ensured themajor resource limitation for tree growth would be light supply. The influence of variation in the sizes of trees within plots was tested by comparing plots with all trees planted in a single day (uniform treatment) with plots where planting was spread over 80 days (heterogeneous treatment). Light interception per tree was simulated with the MAESTRA model. Across sites, treatments and wholerotation stand development, dominant trees showed higher rates of stem growth, light interception, and light use efficiency than subordinate trees (supporting the first hypothesis). For example, dominant trees (80th percentile rank) at the end of the rotation grew four-times faster than suppressed trees (20th percentile rank), as a result of 2.1-fold greater light interception, and 1.8-fold greater stem growth per unit of light interception. In some cases, greater variation among tree sizes within plots led to lower efficiency of light use by average-size trees, providing mixed evidence for the second hypothesis. Greater uniformity of sizes of trees within plots did not substantially mitigate the decline in stem growth from mid-rotation to the end of the rotation, refuting the third hypothesis. The high efficiency of dominant trees underscores the marginal contribution of subordinate trees to total stand growth, and should spur further work on thinning to increase growth and lengthen rotations for dominant trees.

Keywords: Eucalyptus clone, MAESTRA, tropical plantation silviculture, age-related decline, competition


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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Explaining growth of individual trees: Light interception and efficiency of light use by Eucalyptus at four sites in Brazil
Electronic Publish Date: March 25, 2010
Last Update:
March 25, 2010

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