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Understory Colonization of Eucalyptus Plantations in Hawaii in Relation to Light and Nutrient Levels


Address correspondence to R. Ostertag, email


Exotic tree plantations may serve as catalysts for native forest regeneration in agriculturally degraded landscapes. In 2001, we evaluated plant species regeneration in the understory of a 7-year-old experimental Eucalyptus saligna forest in Hawaii approximately 1 year after the cessation of 5 years of herbicide. These forests were organized in a 2 × 2–factorial design of planting density (1 × 1– or 3 × 3–m spacing) and fertilization (unfertilized control and regular fertilization), which resulted in varying resource availabilities. We found that understory biomass was highest under high light conditions, regardless of fertilization treatment, whereas species richness was lowest under fertilized 1 × 1–m plots. The understory was dominated by species exotic to Hawaii. The most common tree species, the noxious weed Citharexylum caudatum, was particularly successful because high light–saturated photosynthesis rates and a low light compensation point allowed for high growth and survival under both light conditions. To assess longer-term recruitment patterns, we resurveyed a portion of this site in 2006 and also surveyed five Eucalyptus plantations in this region of Hawaii that differed in age (5–23 years), species (E. saligna, E. grandis, E. cloeziana, E. microcorys), and management (experimental, industrial, nonindustrial stewardship); all were established on previous agricultural sites within approximately 3 km of native-dominated forest. Again, very few native species were present in any of the stands, indicating that within certain landscapes and for native species with certain life history traits, exotic plantations may be ineffective nursery ecosystems for the regeneration of native species.

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