Does stand structure influence susceptibility of eucalypt floodplain forests to dieback?

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Abstract

Forest dieback is a worldwide problem that is likely to increase with climate change and increasing human demands for resources. Eucalyptus camaldulensis forests are an acute example of forest dieback, with 70% of the Victorian Murray River floodplain in some state of dieback. If we are to halt dieback in these floodplain forests, we need to understand what makes stands susceptible to dieback. Forest diebacks are often related to stand structure, with dieback more severe in senescent or high-density stands. We determined whether certain stand structures make these forests more susceptible to dieback. We undertook an extensive survey of 176 stands across 100 000 ha of forest, covering the range of stand condition on this floodplain. Large and small trees (20-, 40-, 80- and 120-cm diameter) showed a similar reduction in the probability of being alive with decreasing stand condition. A slight improvement in stand condition was found at higher densities and basal areas, which may reflect the higher productivity or younger age of these stands. Stand condition was moderately, positively correlated with longitude, with stand condition being higher in the east of the Murray River floodplain where flooding frequencies are currently higher. This suggests that dieback of these floodplain forests would be more effectively mitigated by increased water availability through flooding than by altering stand structure.

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