Question: How does competition between quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and white fir (Abies concolor) affect growth and spatial pattern of each species?
Location: The northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA.
Methods: In paired plots in mixed aspen- (n=3) or white fir-dominated (n=2) stands, we mapped trees and saplings and recorded DBH, height, species, and condition and took increment cores. We tallied seedlings by species. Tree ring widths were used as a measure of basal area change over the last decade, and canopy openness was identified using hemispherical photographs. Linear mixed models were used to relate neighborhood indices of competition, stand, and tree-level variables to diameter increment. Spatial patterns of stems were identified using the Neighborhood Density Function.
Results: White fir radial growth was higher in aspen- than white fir-dominated plots.
Individual-level variables were more important for white fir than for aspen growth, while variables representing competitive neighborhood were important only for aspen. The forest canopy was more open in aspen- than white fir-dominated stands, but ample aspen seedlings were observed in all stands. Canopy stems of aspen and white fir were randomly distributed, but saplings and small trees were clumped. Aspen saplings were repelled by canopy aspen stems.
Conclusions: Variation in canopy openness explained more stand–stand variation in white fir than aspen growth, but high light levels were correlated with recruitment of aspen seedlings to the sapling class. Radial growth of aspen was predicted by indices of neighborhood competition but not radial growth of white fir, indicating that spacing and stem arrangement was more important for aspen than white fir growth. Fire suppression has removed a major disturbance mechanism that promoted aspen persistence and reduced competition from encroaching conifers, and current forests favor species that regenerate best by advance regeneration (white fir).