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Keywords:

  • Boltzmann–Arrhenius function;
  • competition;
  • elevation;
  • facilitation;
  • metabolic theory;
  • non-linear mixed-effects model;
  • quantile regression;
  • temperature;
  • Tilman vs. Grime debate;
  • WBE theory

Summary

  • 1
     Understanding the factors influencing tree growth is central to forest ecology because of the significance of growth to forest structure and biomass. One of the simplest, yet most controversial growth models, proposed by Enquist and colleagues, predicts that stem-diameter growth scales as the one-third power of stem diameter. Recent analyses of large-scale data sets have challenged the generality of this theory and highlighted the influence of resource competition on the scaling of growth with size.
  • 2
    Here we explore the factors regulating the diameter growth of 3334 trees of mountain beech (Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides) growing in natural single-species forests in New Zealand. Maximum-likelihood modelling was used to quantify the influences of tree size, altitude, the basal area of taller neighbours (BL) and the basal area of all neighbours (BT) on growth. Our interpretation of the models assumed that taller neighbours compete for light whereas all neighbours compete for nutrients.
  • 3
    The regression analyses indicate that competition for light has a strong influence on the growth of small trees, whereas competition for nutrients affects trees of all sizes. These findings are consistent with experimental manipulation studies showing that competition for light and nutrients inhibits the growth of small mountain beech trees, and fertilizer application studies showing that nitrogen limits the growth of large trees.
  • 4
    Tree growth declined with altitude. The regression analyses suggest that the intensity of light competition also declines with altitude, when trees with similar BT and BL values were compared along the gradient. These results are consistent with observations that trees become stunted and have more open canopies at high altitudes.
  • 5
    Our study is the first to build the effects of competition and environment into Enquist's model of tree growth. We show that competitive interactions alter the scaling of mean growth rate with size, whereas altitude does not influence the scaling of potential growth rate with size.